Distributed: Health Propels the Adoption of Blockchain Technology in Healthcare

Distributed: Health 2018 Conference
Distributed: Health 2018 Conference

As the second day of Distributed: Health concluded, attendees were left with a handful of solutions to explore, dozens of questions to ponder and countless new connections to pursue.

The conference, which enjoyed its third year of bringing healthcare executives and decentralizing technologists together at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, TN, featured keynote presentations from legacy leaders like former senator Bill Frist, panel discussions from industry stalwarts like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and blockchain-powered announcements from pioneers like Change Healthcare.

More than 700 registered attendees absorbed information, asked questions and interfaced with one another to form the building blocks that will carry the healthcare industry into its next iteration. About 30 developers attended an accompanying code camp today to sharpen their blockchain coding skills and, eventually, put decentralizing ideas into practice.

"Healthcare Is Ripe for Disruption"

The event opened on Monday with welcome remarks and a fireside chat led by former medical practitioner, Tennessee senator and House Majority Leader Bill Frist. He leveraged his experience as both a provider and regulator to describe Nashville's unique position in the healthcare atmosphere (where the industry has a $38.8 billion impact, per at least one estimation ) and the industry's dire need for fundamental change.

"Right now, healthcare is ripe for disruption like no other industry," Frist said. "The reason is, we have very, very, very high cost, which the typical consumer can't afford, and we have uneven access. … When you have high cost and you have uneven access, the macro environment for disruption is huge. And that's where blockchain [technology] is."

Inviting Michael Painter, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to join him in a fireside chat, Frist expanded on the need for blockchain solutions in healthcare, pointing out that the first step to addressing issues like healthcare disparity and encouraging healthy lifestyles more broadly will be collecting and leveraging data in a decentralized way.

"Without access to current, real data that can be trusted, that is privacy protected, that is distributed … we can't make any real progress," Frist said. "Blockchain [technology] has the opportunity … to address one of those basic needs of society. Which is to make sure that our children have a better life, have better health, than we have."

"An Opportunity to Build Development Tools"

Following the opening remarks, Distributed: Health attendees were free to attend the panels and conversations that most interested them among multiple, concurrent tracks. There were presentations on pressing health issues, explorations of viable use cases and technological primers.

This included the first-ever public platform for the Synaptic Health Alliance, a group of leading healthcare enterprises that has collaborated to explore potential uses for blockchain technology. The group included Michael Jacobs, senior engineer at Optum; Kyle Culver, lead enterprise architect at Humana; and Dave Murtagh, vice president of operations and provider data for MultiPlan. In addition to describing their work, the alliance members noted that the inspiration for the group had struck as two of them mingled between panels at Distributed: Health 2017.

"One of the things we've learned about [blockchain] technology is that it's most suitable when you have multiple organizations involved," Jacobs said. "You want to steer your ship toward a use case focus."

Attendees also heard from Change Healthcare and TIBCO Software, whose representatives took the main stage to announce a partnership to introduce a blockchain-powered smart contract platform that can be easily leveraged by healthcare enterprises to improve fundamental tasks like claims processing.

"What we're really trying to do is bring the first smart contract platform to healthcare," explained Emily Vaughn, product director of blockchain at Change Healthcare. "What we see is an opportunity to build development tools to allow for healthcare's engineers to quickly design and build blockchain applications."

"We've Seen This Shift"

The second day of Distributed: Health began with remarks from John Bass, CEO of Nashville-based Hashed Health. As a co-host of all three Distributed: Health conferences, Bass took the opportunity to reflect on how the conversation around decentralized solutions for healthcare problems has evolved.

"If you think about 2016, it was all about community building," Bass said. "2017 was a lot of enterprise work, a lot of conversations with big insurance companies, big pharma companies … about how enterprises could get involved. Now, in 2018, we've seen this shift. … The shift that I've noticed is that the conversations are much more mature, the audience is much more mature, the level of thought, the practicality … is much more advanced and much more mature than what we've seen in the past."

"The Use Cases Will Flood In"

Beyond the attendees, several solutions providers were present at Distributed: Health to capitalize on that maturity and help those seeking blockchain-based products and platforms to make the most of available tools. Companies exhibiting in the venue's innovation hall included ConsenSys Health, QubeChain and Luxoft.

Solve.Care was another such exhibitor, with CEO Pradeep Goel taking the main stage to share his successes, learning experiences and passion for the space with attendees.

"Healthcare is ready to adopt blockchain [technology] if you can demonstrate clear ROI," Goel said. "This is not an issue of when blockchain will start working in healthcare. It is starting to work. … Once you have the right framework in place, then the use cases will flood in and that is what we are experiencing."

Solve.Care has demonstrated this through a digital wallet and token designed to facilitate seamless data exchange and payments between providers and patients, solutions that have been leveraged by the Arizona Care Network.

Throughout both days of the conference, there was also ample opportunity for those on the frontlines of creating blockchain solutions to promote their projects to attendees. A running "investor pitch" session took place on the third floor of the Symphony Center where dozens of projects shared their value propositions, potential utility and learning experiences.

The winning project, as determined by a panel of judges, took the main stage toward the end of the conference to share its story.

"Today, patients make too many mistakes when it comes to their medications," said a representative from ScalaMed, the winning project, before pointing out that 30 percent of patients don't ever pick up their prescribed medications and that 50 percent stop taking their prescribed medications after six months.

To address this, ScalaMed plans to launch a "smart prescription" platform that automatically enters a prescription into an electronic health record, secures it on a blockchain, places it in a digital wallet and lets patients send it digitally to a pharmacy. Among the touted advantages, this could allow patients to compare pharmaceutical costs and alert them to potential allergies or other complications.

"We use blockchain [technology] because we truly believe: it's your information, it's your data and you have the right to control it," the representative said.

Building on this year's successes and the healthcare industry's progress to date, registration for Distributed: Health 2019 has already opened.

Disclaimer: Distributed: Health was presented by the Distributed Event Series, which, like, is owned by BTC Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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