How Anthem is using blockchain technology to free up members' data

Anthem is betting big on blockchain.

The insurance giant has several pilots of the technology—which enables encryption of medical data and ensures the privacy of healthcare information—in the works. That includes a project to make it easier for patients to access and share their health data.

“The biggest application in healthcare is to create a system of trust between parties,” Rajeev Ronanki, senior vice president and chief digital officer at Anthem, told FierceHealthcare. “Right now, for many different reasons, between parties, whether it’s providers and health plans, or employers and health plans, and consumers, there isn’t an effective way to say who has rights to what information and how to create a trusted system for information sharing that’s secure and private and puts the consumer in the center of that.”

Specifically, the company is testing the use of blockchain to provide identity management services for some members.

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“Consumers have to manage healthcare data that exists in lots of places such as labs, doctor’s offices, as well as claims with different insurance companies. We now have an easy way to piece all this information together from disparate data sources and have a holistic view of a person,” Ronanki said.

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, according to a Forbes article.  

The system is live for a pilot test group of about 200 company employees, and Anthem plans to roll it out in phases to members beginning in 2020, Forbes reported. Anthem’s 40 million members will have access to the feature in the next two to three years.

The company plans to have about a dozen uses for blockchain.

“With any new technology that we introduce at Anthem, we test the technical viability and business implications and we implement it in select areas. Once we get feedback and results, then we proceed to scale it,” Ronanki said.

One key building block to the feature is creating a permission-based system that enables consumers to manage their own identity and own their healthcare data using blockchain technology, he said. “The healthcare data can be available to a specialist or it can be shared with caregivers and family and you can track all of that,” he said.

Blockchain technology works by using a public ledger to track the origin of a source of information, then links those sources to update information in a decentralized way.

RELATED: Aetna, IBM launching new blockchain healthcare network

Because the origin is ingrained in the information, it is impossible to obscure or miscomprehend what happened to it—a key feature that has made the tech the backbone of other applications, such as bitcoin. Anthem also is testing other use cases for blockchain in healthcare, such as coordination of benefits between different insurance companies.

“Currently, that process is cumbersome and manual and creates an issue for consumers. With blockchain as an enabling technology, we can record all that and make it readily available to all the parties who need that information,” he said. “It takes the friction out of the service that’s provided and simplifies the experience,” he added.

Other blockchain projects in the works

Several blockchain consortiums are already underway to tackle systemwide problems that are common pain points for healthcare organizations, such as standardizing and managing patient consent.

In early 2019, Anthem joined a collaboration with Aetna, PNC Bank, IBM and Health Care Service Corporation to design a blockchain healthcare network to address challenges like efficient claims and payment progressing and provider directories.

Another blockchain-focused collaboration, called Synaptic Health Alliance, has attracted big healthcare players including UnitedHealth, Optum, Humana, MultiPlan, Aetna, Cognizant, and Quest Diagnostics. That group is making progress on a pilot program to use the distributed ledger technology to improve the accuracy of healthcare provider data.

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Other healthcare companies working on blockchain include Ciox Health and Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health, which is using blockchain technology and AI to identify waste and lower costs at its health system. Indiana University Health and WakeMed Health & Hospitals have teamed up with blockchain and pharmacy companies to better track specialty prescription drugs.

The biggest benefit blockchain provides is allowing stakeholders to collaborate more effectively without compromising each company’s intellectual property, according to Ronanki.

“Anthem wants to keep its proprietary information private, but at the same time, allow insights that allow the effective treatment of care and enables doctors to have access to the most up-to-date information about a person’s health to provide the right care,” he said.