How blockchain could change the health insurance industry
- Blockchain is set to transform the insurance industry, drastically cutting down the amount of time and money insurers will need to dedicate to claims processes.
- Analysts note that outstanding issues include regulation, managing redactions and acquiring buy-in from a large enough group of participants.
The length of time and the expense involved in processing insurance claims has long been the bane of an industry with a reputation of being slow to embrace change. Blockchain technology offers the hope of drastically cutting down processing times by granting access to health records to those who need it in a secure way.
To alleviate what some have called a “paperwork crisis in the industry,” blockchain technology is a way of getting every detail of a patient’s medical history codified on the blockchain. No one will “own” the information, making it accessible to those who need it in a quick and secure way, saving providers time and money.
“For a single health care claim, it could touch 300 physical people, and that’s humongous,” said Siva Kannan, vice president of engineering at Gem, a blockchain startup that’s partnering with Capital One on a platform that uses blockchain technology to help insurers and medical providers track and verify medical information. “Anything that’s associated with making sure identities are registered properly and that data is managed securely through the blockchain is a great thing,” he said, speaking at the Consensus 2017 conference in New York on Tuesday.
As a recent report from McKinsey points out, an individual’s personal data doesn’t need to be stored on the blockchain — it can stay on an the user’s personal device. It’s only the verification of the information through a doctor or other medical transactions that are done through the blockchain. The system has built-in permission rights so those that need to see the information can do so securely and at a moment’s notice. Instead of paper records, a ‘digital identity’ for each person would be enabled by the blockchain.
“How many times have you heard ‘the data got dirty and got it wrong’?” said David Treat, managing director and global lead of Accenture’s capital markets blockchain practice. “The notion of being able to share access and not move it will drive enormous operational gains.”
Claims can be processed faster, note developers, because blockchain technology reduces the need for insurers to comb through paper data.
“If I try to buy life insurance, it’s a 30-question document, and if any of the answers is wrong, the whole system breaks — I have to get my own health records, pay for it and take it back to the insurance company,” said Subhajit Mandal, director of LumenLab, MetLife’s Singapore-based innovation center. “[With blockchain] if the insurance company has to process the data, it can send a smart contract to the hospital, get it processed and get the outcome returned.”
Kannan said Gem’s healthcare platform is 12 to 18 months from being fully implemented. But while blockchain-enabled tools stand to offer major gains for insurers, one analyst says some issues need to be worked out before before it becomes more widely adopted across the industry, including how to deal with information that’s entered erroneously and needs to changed. Others note that for blockchain technology to go mainstream, it needs buy-in from a wide enough cohort of participants.
“There’s a concern because of the sensitive nature of the data,” said Jeff Goldberg, senior vice president of research and consulting at Novarica. “There needs to be a way to redact the data if it’s been shared and shouldn’t have been shared — that’s a hurdle we’ll have to deal with, along with the regulations.”