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Blockchain and Physician Collaboration Could Spawn Innovation

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   August 30, 2018

2 talked-about topics at Health:Further could impact health systems.

Healthcare innovation was top of mind at this week's Health:Further conference in Nashville. There was no shortage of start-up companies pitching ideas and seeking funding; every other person I ran into seemed to have the next great idea to transform the industry.

While conference founder and CEO Marcus Whitney talked to me about the big trends conference participants were discussing that will have the greatest impact on health systems, I noted a couple of additional topics worthy of mention: blockchain may open up new possibilities for health system innovation, while hospitals not developing the infrastructure for innovation may be closing down opportunities to collaborate with physicians with great ideas.

Blockchain is Big, but Perplexing

If the number of people jammed into the sessions addressing blockchain was any indication, blockchain may be the next big thing in healthcare. Few understand it; many are struggling to learn more.

In essence, the technology links and secures, through cryptography, an expanding list of records, known as blocks. Best advice I heard from a speaker: Don't focus on HOW it works; focus on WHAT it does.

Brian McCuller, JD, CPA of LBMC offered these potential uses for blockchain:

  • Financial services transactions, such as money transfers
  • Internet of Things (IOT) integration, enabling smart devices to communicate with each other using "smart contracts"
  • Supply chain management/logistics, which need to be transparent and verifiable from end-to-end, such as prescription drugs
  • Public records, such as professional credentials
  • Private records (permission-based information sharing), such as patient data
  • Government services

"When you think about whether this technology will impact your business, says Emily Vaughn of Change Healthcare, "you have to think about the fact that independently of our industry or our business, this technology is being adopted by consumers on a global scale at a rate that the Internet was adopted. Whether it takes on the same meaning in our culture and society as the Internet remains to be seen. But the potential impact to your business from the consumer side could come one day. The enterprise companies that have been adopting this outside of healthcare, in the financial space and whatnot, they see that."

Physicians Need Health Systems to Improve Innovation Infrastructure

Although health systems are establishing innovation arms, physician innovators may not view these organizations as the best option to help nurture and commercialize their ideas.

"Innovation [at health systems] may now be where quality improvement was 10 years ago; the infrastructure isn't set up yet," says Charlotte Wu, MD, director of adult primary care at Boston Medical Center, and founder and principal of Harness Health Partners. Dr. Wu spoke at Health:Further about how physicians could collaborate with delivery systems, and I chatted with her afterwards.

Physicians have great ideas to transform the industry, she says, and numerous MD-led startups were present at the conference. While health systems may benefit from such solutions, Dr. Wu said that physicians find it difficult to work with these organizations.

"There are a lot of barriers to integrating with health systems," she says, pointing to legal and contracting issues as primary concerns. "If health systems want to prioritize innovation, the onus is on them to create structures so that innovators have a place to connect and some of that path is paved for physicians to navigate."

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

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