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News roundup: 3 new blockchain in healthcare use cases

Three companies see the promise of blockchain in healthcare in this week's news roundup. Here's the latest from Change Healthcare, MTBC and Ambrosus.

Change Healthcare recently announced it has blockchain running in production on its Intelligent Healthcare Network and that the technology will be available for payers and providers interested in exploring its potential.

The role of blockchain in healthcare has created a buzz in 2018, but to date that interest hasn't led to many commercially available solutions. Change Healthcare started to look at the technology 18 months ago, and joined the board of directors at Hyperledger, an open source consortium focused on blockchain tools and business frameworks, said Aaron Symanski, CTO at Change Healthcare.

In January the company added blockchain to its insurance reimbursement manager and now the technology is available throughout its network, Symanski said. "We want to be prepared for and ready for our customers when it is time for them to adopt blockchain," he said. "Not a lot of providers and payers are ready today to turn blockchain on, but the capability is there now so they can educate themselves. They can understand how they might need to change their own operational process through blockchain."

Given the healthcare industry's cautious nature, Symanski thinks it will be quite a while before blockchain in healthcare is widely used, but he stressed the intricate nature of the business could be well-suited to what the technology provides.

"Blockchain changes the pattern from one that's very linear to one where everyone is working with the chain simultaneously," he explained. "It's going to require internal administrative changes [for customers] so I think we're now introducing our tech in a way that very conservative customers can get a point of view [on blockchain] and use if they're ready to."

Blockchain reaches for EHRs

Meanwhile, in an effort to solve one of the most pervasive challenges in healthcare -- interoperability -- MTBC, a medical billing and EHR provider, has released a blockchain API. APIs are software building blocks that make it easier to create applications and connect them together.

Blockchain changes the pattern from one that's very linear to one where everyone is working with the chain simultaneously.
Aaron SymanskiCTO, Change Healthcare

"We thought that rather than connecting all of these applications and services through the conventional database mechanisms with all those layers that we'd put blockchain as the central hub," said Adeel Sarwar, CTO at MTBC. This would allow one EHR to reach out to a different EHR directly, and both would have secure access to the encrypted data on blockchain using two-factor authentication, Sarwar explained.

In this scenario, the patient would have complete control of the data and choose which providers would be able to seamlessly communicate. The patient could initiate blockchain authorization using either an IOS or Android mobile phone or a web browser. "Two different doctors on two different platforms are able to coordinate care based on the patient's consent to the level of access," Sarwar said. "Now we have a proof of concept."

MTBC is in discussions with several EHR vendors and other companies about licensing the blockchain API, which is based on the Hyperledger standard. It may take some time, but blockchain in healthcare can make things easier, Sarwar argued.

"There is really nothing required from other EHR vendors," he said. "They don't need any special logic or any kind of algorithms. They just have to make sure their code can call the API."

Keeping track of drugs and equipment

Ambrosus, a multinational IoT supply chain manufacturer, is looking to move its blockchain-powered solution into the pharmaceutical market. The fact that in theory a blockchain can't be tampered with makes it a perfect vehicle to track prescription drugs and even clinical trials, said Angel Versetti, CEO of Ambrosus.

Ambrosus is active in the European market, where strict government regulations have made more industries consider a blockchain solution earlier than in the United States. "The immutability of blockchain is its most basic value proposition," Versetti said.

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, Versetti said blockchain could ensure ingredient safety in manufacturing, tamper-free shipping and delivery and ultimately be a tool to prevent drug theft or misuse in a clinical setting. But it's also the ideal system of record for clinical trials. "All the data in a medicine trial is a huge thing for pharmaceutical companies," he said. "They need to get reliable data, but they can't prove how adequate it is or that it hasn't been altered."

That's where a blockchain platform could step in, he said, and added that Ambrosus is in discussions with large pharmaceutical suppliers around the world about a clinical trial solution.

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