Anthem, the second-largest health insurance company in the U.S, has started to use blockchain technology to help patients securely access and share their medical data. The company plans to roll out the feature, which is in pilot testing now, to groups of members in the next few months. All 40 million members will have access to it in the next two to three years, according to company officials.
“What blockchain potentially gives us the opportunity to do is not worry about those trust issues,” said Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux at the 8th Annual Forbes Healthcare Summit in New York last week. “We have an opportunity now to share data that people can make their own decisions on.”
In January, Anthem announced that it was working with Aetna, Health Care Service Corporation, IBM and PNC Bank in a new partnership focused on blockchain. Their goal, says Rajeev Ronanki, chief digital officer at Anthem, is to help keep patient data private while increasing interoperability (the ability of different digital health systems to exchange information) and trust between partners.
Blockchain, made popular by cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, is a decentralized database that creates a record of when data is accessed or exchanged. In the healthcare world, this allows companies, especially those that work with medical records, to move patient data securely and cut out redundancies. Executives at Anthem, which has patient medical data based on insurance claims, believe that using blockchain will give patients more immediate access to their records as well as allow them to control who views their health data.
In the current Anthem pilot program, users can open an app on their phones, scan a QR code, and instantly grant different healthcare providers access to their health records— but only for a limited amount of time. As soon as the appointment is over, users can revoke access and make their medical records private again. This system is live for a pilot test group of about 200 company employees, Ronanki says, and Anthem plans to roll it out in phases to members beginning in 2020.
Ronanki says Anthem is already using blockchain in several ways, and more programs are still in development. In total, they plan to have about a dozen uses for blockchain, Ronanki says, 40% of which are already live. The blockchains that they are using are Hyperledger Fabric, Burrow and Indy. Their current transaction volumes average about 300,000 a week for patient health data. “We think it’s a pretty transformative thing for health,” Ronanki says.
“We’re essentially creating a permission-based system that would allow consumers to own their healthcare data, and then make it available to providers as appropriate,” he says.
Another way the insurer is making use of blockchain: Anthem will eventually start using the technology to process insurance claims and coordinate benefits faster. Sometimes a patient is covered by more than one provider, Ronanki says, and it can take a lot of time to chase down information. Using blockchain, Anthem will be able to quickly access the most up-to-date data about which person or treatments are covered by which company. “We can create trusted partnerships, without having to share the underlying data,” Ronanki says.
Michael del Castillo contributed to this story.