Interview with IBM’s Francisco Curbera About Blockchain in Healthcare

IBM

IBM has been one of the pioneers in the blockchain space, with partnerships with companies in various industries such as logistics, supply chain, and finance among others.

In January, IBM announced a collaboration with health insurance providers Aetna, Health Care Service Corp as well as financial services company PNC, to bring efficiencies and cut costs in the healthcare industry using blockchain technology.

Smartereum’s Mahesh Sashital got a chance to ask Francisco Curbera, PhD, Director, Innovation & Solution Incubation Development at IBM some details about the initiative.

Mahesh Sashital (MS): Is this initiative a blockchain-based EMR or some other type of medical system?
Francisco Curbera (FC): No. While facilitating secure health data exchange is one of the goals of this collaboration, creating a blockchain replacement for existing EHRs is not a goal of this collaboration. The HUN platform will support a portfolio of healthcare solutions targeting providers, payers and other participants in the delivery of healthcare services.

MS: What do you see this collaboration accomplishing in the short and medium term? How will patients’ experience with the healthcare system improve or change?
FC: As a result of this collaboration, we expect increased connectivity, easier data sharing and less friction in processes across the healthcare ecosystem. Patients will benefit by receiving better, more efficient and higher quality health services.

MS: Increases in healthcare costs and insurance premiums have been an ongoing issue for the last decade or two. Will this effort make any difference in this regard?
FC: We believe this effort will result in taking friction and unnecessary cost out of core healthcare processes.

MS: Aetna, Anthem & HCSC make sense. What is PNC Bank’s interest in this?
FC: The collaboration is looking for a diverse set of participants in the healthcare ecosystem, including those providing financial services. PNC Bank has been providing financial services in the healthcare industry for over 20 years.

MS: Digitizing and, more pertinently, sharing of medical records has been a notoriously hard nut to crack. How is this effort going to change that?
FC: This initiative will complement and accelerate ongoing efforts around health data interoperability and patient empowerment. Blockchain can add a layer of trust and transparency to the exchange of healthcare data, giving patients and data owners the tools to effectively control how their data is used, and providing data consumers assurance of the provenance and integrity of the information they access.

MS: How is blockchain enabling this initiative? Could this have been done without blockchain?
FC: Blockchain technology is designed to create trust across individuals and organizations, by securing and verifying the source and integrity of data and transactions. It does this in a way the others technologies can’t easily deliver. By creating this level of trust, blockchain networks enable creating of business networks that can tackle difficult industry wide problems that require strong collaboration among partners and competitors.

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