Welcome to the Health-Care Blockchain

It sounds like something you’d put on your tires prior to a blizzard, but the blockchain is much, much more, and it holds the promise of safe, accurate, and secure medical records. The health-care industry is plagued by an epidemic of hacks and fraud, and the blockchain is emerging as a potential cure.

The blockchain decentralizes data storage and prevents any outside tampering with the data. Once something has been added to the blockchain, it can’t be altered.

Humana and UnitedHealth are among the health-care companies that are switching their sights to the blockchain. The two companies, along with Quest Diagnostics, Optum, and Multiplan, are launching a pilot program at the end of May designed to improve the data quality in provider directories.

Optum, which is part of UnitedHealth Group, began exploring blockchain technology two years ago and determined the best use of the technology would be in ensuring the accuracy of provider directory data shared by multiple companies, Mike Jacobs, a senior distinguished engineer with Optum, told me.

“The problem we observed is that when there’s a health-care transaction, there are islands of data on either end of the transaction, and they’re often different,” Jacobs said. When data is submitted across different platforms, tiny errors can materialize in a provider’s data, such as the wrong address or phone number, and these errors can lead to claim rejections and even fines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Jacobs said.

The blockchain can serve as a conduit between members of the pilot program, Jacobs said. If one participant updates their provider directory, the other participants don’t have to because the data is shared through the blockchain, Jacobs said.

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