Blockchain Technology in Healthcare: How HIMSS is Making it Happen

Every new digital health innovation starts with a great pitch, promising to deliver the same things: a future of improved outcomes, increased patient and provider satisfaction, reduced costs—the package deal. Some might ask: if it doesn’t start off sounding too good to be true, is it truly innovative?

To form a solid implementation strategy, you need both data and experts to analyze the facts. Fortunately, HIMSS is a convener of both.

Here’s a glimpse into our work to break past the buzzword and find the true meaning and value of blockchain technology.

Watch Mirko De Maldè, president at Government Blockchain Association Italy, talk with HIMSSTV about how blockchain is moving beyond the hype.

Compiling the Facts

We first need to understand innovation to move the needle—how it will work to meet organizational goals, and what we need to provide decision-makers with so we all stay on the right track. To do all of this, we need resources to analyze—research, use cases, and ultimately, facts.

That’s where the expertise of HIMSS Analytics comes in handy. HIMSS Analytics, the market research arm of HIMSS, develops and collects all of the resources necessary to drive productive stakeholder conversations rooted in factual evidence. HIMSS Analytics surveyed 160 healthcare stakeholders to gauge their interest in blockchain technology. Here’s what they found:

  • 45% of respondents reported that their organization is still investigating or learning about blockchain.
  • About 37% indicated their organization had no current ongoing blockchain discoveries.
  • 6% are building business use cases and securing support for those use cases; about half of these respondents plan to do so within the next two years.
  • 3% are already actively pilot-testing blockchain use cases, and non-providers (including payers and consultants) are two times more likely than providers to do so within the next two years.

This is a mere snapshot focused on an expansive topic, but the big picture from respondent data shows that few decision-makers—including both provider and non-providers—actually understand what blockchain is, know how to use it, or even know what it means for healthcare. This underscores the importance of educating stakeholders about blockchain technology.

“Non-providers have a little more bandwidth to experiment with new technologies, which may explain their statistically higher likelihood of conducting a proof of concept or test pilot in the upcoming months,” HIMSS Analytics explained. “These first-time adopters will be the ones to prove those use cases and provide a more concrete path for other organizations to follow before they dip their toes into the blockchain waters. Considering the current state of the market, blockchain vendors will need to be patient.”

Either way, the race towards a blockchain-enabled future has already begun. To keep up with the pace, we need to keep gathering the facts.

Convening the Experts

One way HIMSS is getting the facts about blockchain to organizational stakeholders is through forming enterprise committees and taskforces rooted in diverse, global industry experience spanning across all aspects of the health information and technology industry.

A prime example is the recently formed Blockchain in Healthcare Task Force. Mari Greenberger, director of informatics and internal interoperability subject matter expert at HIMSS, tracked blockchain’s rapid rise on the healthcare horizon and recognized the integral need for stakeholder education and general industry awareness about blockchain technology.

Greenberger worked with her team to convene a group of HIMSS members with diverse global expertise spanning across a variety of healthcare information and technology settings. Selecting a variety of relevant industry backgrounds, the task force dives into use cases to obtain the facts needed to keep the industry informed about the next paradigm shift in digital health. One of those experts is David Houlding. Currently the principal healthcare lead at Microsoft and the HIMSS Blockchain in Healthcare Taskforce chair, Houlding’s background is rooted in security and compliance expertise, with over two decades in healthcare.

“We really prioritize participation from healthcare organizations who bring that frontline perspective,” said Houlding. “Provider organizations, payer organizations, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, business associates, people working directly with healthcare data, and then technology providers that have a leadership role in enabling healthcare to make use of blockchain technology to reach their goals.”

Keeping facts from the aforementioned survey in mind, the task force’s focus here is spot on. With members based in three different continents, the task force maintains focus on the entire horizon of healthcare. This means thinking about things like General Data Protection Laws (GDPR), and how it could affect the transfer of patient data across the European Union—especially when that data could be transported to another country with different regulations.

“If you start local, and then go international at some point, all of the information will flow wherever you stand up new nodes,” Houlding explained. “Privacy and compliance are definitely things to learn about from the European standpoint.”

Various ventures underway are rapidly outpacing other nations as they dive deep into the production phases of blockchain implementation, and the task force continues to track them. For instance, Taipei Medical University Hospital in Taiwan recently developed a healthcare blockchain-powered platform focused on health data exchange between medical establishments and patient portals.

“With fast-movers like this, perhaps because they’re less regulated, they’re able to deploy faster. And maybe we could learn from their production use and deployment,” Houlding suggested. “I think 2019’s going to be really interesting, in terms of some of those pilots wrapping up, case studies being published, attestations from healthcare organizations as to what worked well. As you get more providers, payers, etc. standing up and saying, ‘Hey, we did blockchain for this use case, this is the business value we saw,’ you’ll see more organizations gravitate towards those use cases, join those consortiums and grow those networks.”


Calling All Changemakers

No matter where you are in the world, you can be part of what’s next for health. View digital resources, a content showcase and social media highlights on the HIMSS Global Health Conference Digital Experience page.

Be Part of the Change

Originally published November 28, 2018