Blocks of Healthcare Foresight: Feature Interview with Blockchain Researcher Brennan Bennett
To say that the U.S. healthcare system is ailing in an understatement. Before our very eyes, Obamacare is imploding, with brazen promises on the part of the Trump administration to fix or discard it. In the meantime costs continue to soar, quality of care remains questionable, and barriers to access are mounting.
Here at BTCManager, we turned to consultant and blockchain researcher Brennan Bennett for his take on the current healthcare landscape, offering his perspectives on emerging intersection between blockchain and healthcare. Bennett is the founder of Blockchain Healthcare Review, an online forum that examines technical innovation in blockchain technology and how it is reshaping the future of health information technology (HIT) data governance. He is also currently a graduate student at Rutgers University majoring in Biomedical Informatics.
What’s Captured Your Interest regarding Applying Blockchain Solutions to Healthcare?
I’m interested in ironing out the business logic and scalability issues of blockchain technology for internal HIT business operations, specifically as it relates to pharmacies. I am also intrigued by the development of interoperable platforms for multi-entity data sharing. All of this is a fun puzzle to play with due to the epic rise of health informatics in the past decade.
So What is Your Vision for all of this?
To one day see an entrepreneurial philosophy in the enterprise HIT space where large operations look to blockchain for business and research partnerships with external entities. The arrangements currently are not feasible today amid the prevailing technology boundaries that currently exist .
How do you see the Blockchain having an Impact on the Healthcare Field?
Aside from complex business logic automation as well as opportunities gained from patient mediated data, I believe the most impactful results of blockchain may well be in the fields of drug discovery, genomic research and clinical trials (i.e. biomedical informatics). These are all areas I want to see the blockchain optimized in a way that enables researchers to build and use more advanced tools to push the boundaries in areas such as computational biology and precision medicine related to brain science (i.e. psychiatric disorders). These areas take an enormous amount of coordination, especially in the field of mental health, and functionalities like immutable audit trails can go a long way in optimizing research protocols, both in practice and in publication.
And How do you see Blockchain Innovation Providing Value to both Healthcare Providers?
Blockchain’s value helps providers from a business perspective first, clinical second. For example, bundled payments, eligibility and claims processing will all be impacted in a big way by blockchain in terms of automation, which saves time, optimizes payment cash flows and can provide detailed audit trails for immediate clarity.
What about Patients?
Patient-mediated data is going to have the biggest impact for the everyday consumer. Overall, I believe that any blockchain healthcare solution must support interactions, not just transactions. In the clinical field, having a patient that can bring a detailed health history file to the table can cut down on diagnostic guess and checks, lab work, etc.
Is There a Role for the Internet of Things here?
No doubt. IoT will play a bigger role in this in the long-term future, once both network latency and cognitive trend analysis merge with smart contract functionality to create predictive, personalized health outcome strategy. Furthermore, these trends can lead to a Profile of Care use case, which then can be utilized to help coordinate the life cycle of clinical care.
Are There any Use Cases you can think of around the Convergence of Blockchain and Healthcare?
Yes, there is a lot of activity on blockchain applications in biomedical informatics. But for this ecosystem to truly move things forward there will need to be a technological intersection with cognitive computing as well as much needed advances in data governance and security to support the massive computational bandwidth required to deliver more global trend analysis visualizations. Functional assets like smart contracts are a good first step in this regard.
So in Your View, what is the Biggest Barrier to Blockchain Adoption in Healthcare?
Scalability for sure, but I think that is being addressed in ways that are very impactful. MIT Media Lab is producing some very promising node and ledger related work on data validation in a distributed network. Notably, the OPAL/Enigma Project3 is addressing this adoption barrier through the use of multi-party computation and secret-sharing via a permissioned blockchain. I believe this type of forward thinking will adequately address the question of how troves of data will be accessed in the near-term future.
Are there any Other Barriers that come to mind?
Communication. And not just communication between nodes or multiple networks, but actual verbal communication. The blockchain is moving so fast right now that communicating its pros and cons to internal teams who are not plugged into the industry is a challenge at the enterprise level. The industry will, of course, have its Titans like IBM who most likely already have the ears of those teams. But more than anything this technological revolution is providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for my generation of entrepreneurs to get a foot in the door and develop our own proof of concepts and consensus protocols.
What Do you see on the Horizon for 2017 in this Space?
Things are picking up steam regarding blockchain healthcare related hackathons and conferences. So getting the word out might be as simple as putting a flag up at a conference via a product demo to see who approaches afterwards. To this point, if I were to recommend one conference to attend this year it would be the Healthcare Blockchain Summit in Washington D.C., held in late March.
What are Other Initiatives in this Space that Gives you Hope?
Luckily, there are reputable initiatives like Hashed Health in Nashville, TN that are really doing what needs to be done from a business perspective to bring the right people to the right table and communicate the right aspects of the technology. Explaining blockchain end to end often is not necessary, especially in terms of flushing out a proof-of-concept for a particular business need. Organizations like Hashed Health are what is going to separate the blockchain impact in healthcare from the previous software and SaaS technology evolutions.
What two or three Blockchain-centric Trends in Healthcare do you believe will Emerge in the Next 12-18 months?
I think some blockchain platforms targeting healthcare initiatives will come into the fold within the next year or so. There are many intriguing and intelligent applications being built in the startup world as well as innovative efforts in corporate backed blockchain labs (i.e. Philips) that address a long list of specific use cases. The next step is getting them into a supportive ecosystem so that clients, large and small, can customize services from these solution providers without the need for individual contracts and technical roadmaps for each solution vendor.
And is there more?
Yes, I also believe that data stewardship will be front and center as one of the most important trends. Blockchain technology in healthcare has already begun to work on facilitating the control of data. Functionalities like identity management and IoT ID verification must become standardized to map out the next generation of use cases. This needs to occur for broader informatics applications to become a reality.
Finally, in terms of talk around Obamacare being Dismantled. What do you think this will mean in terms of Conversations around Blockchain in Healthcare?
This is hard to call, especially with no published GOP consensus on what will replace it. Politics notwithstanding, we now have a healthcare system where technology like EMRs was pushed forward quickly due to federal regulations and incentives. Yes, these developments and deployments could have rolled out across the industry in a more organized fashion, but the problem that it now creates (i.e. lack of interoperability), is where Blockchain has the highest relevance in terms of a solution. The ONC Blockchain Challenge was a good step to easing concerns about a lack of federal interest in the core concepts of blockchain in healthcare. I sincerely hope our government keeps an open mind to emerging technology such as blockchain and its potential to plug inefficiencies in federal programs like Medicaid.