ONC challenge winners weigh in on how blockchain can improve healthcare

White papers on improving claims processing, patient-reported outcome measures and the doctor-patient relationship are among the winners of a national blockchain challenge.

The challenge, from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, asked for innovative healthcare uses for the technology, the most widely known example of which is Bitcoin. Blockchain provides an easy-to-see trail of transactions, but does not require an intermediary for data exchange.

Peter Nichol, former IT chief of the Connecticut state health information exchange, has said the technology will grow in importance in the coming years because it’s difficult to hack and only points to the location of records.

From the more than 70 individuals, organizations and companies who submitted papers to the challenge, 15 winners were selected, according to an announcement.

Solutions architect Kyle Culver, for instance, proposed combining blockchain technologies and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)-compliant APIs to enable near real-time claims processing and reduce fraud while providing more transparency for patients.

Jason Goldwater, of the National Quality Forum, suggested using wearable technologies, smartphone applications, personal web portals and sensor technology to securely develop patient-related outcome measures from personalized data streams.

And patient privacy advocate Adrian Gropper, M.D., proposed a “HIE of One” model that employs blockchain to put control of interoperability and decision support in the hands of patients and physicians.

“We are thrilled by the incredible amount of interest in this challenge,” Vindell Washington, M.D., who recently stepped into the role of national coordinator for health IT, said in the announcement. “While many know about blockchain technology’s uses for digital currency purposes, the challenge submissions show its exciting potential for new, innovative uses in healthcare.”