Quest Diagnostics explores blockchain as a way to improve data quality and sharing

Company is part of a healthcare alliance looking to reduce administrative costs associated with changes to demographic information.
Written by Bob Violino, Contributor

Blockchain holds much promise for improving data privacy, integrity, and quality, although a lot of companies are taking a wait-and-see approach to the model. Quest Diagnostics is not one of them.

The provider of clinical lab services for more than a year has been involved in pilot project with other healthcare companies to apply blockchain technology to improve data quality and reduce administrative costs associated with changes to healthcare provider demographic data.

These changes to data are a complex issue facing organizations across the healthcare system, said Jason O'Meara, senior director of architecture at Quest. Federal and state laws require that health plans maintain directories containing basic information about physicians and other healthcare providers.

In April 2018, Quest announced an alliance with Humana, MultiPlan, Optum, and United Healthcare to launch the pilot involving blockchain, which has been defined as a "single version of the truth" made possible by an immutable and secure time-stamped ledger -- copies of which are held by multiple parties.

Two other companies in the industry, Ascension and Aetna, joined the effort in December 2018.

The initiative, called the Synaptic Health Alliance, is exploring how blockchain technology could help ensure the most current healthcare provider information is available in health plan provider directories, providing consumers looking for care with the most accurate information when they need it.

"As an alliance, we recognize the technology's value is in its application to business use cases: To help transparently share information, automate mutually-beneficial processes, and audit interactions," O'Meara said. "In the future, we may look to explore other uses cases in healthcare, such as longitudinal health records, asset tracking, managing and exchanging data, and process automation."

The early stages of the pilot have taught Quest and its partners a lot, O'Meara said. "We've successfully demonstrated an initial design, a flexible deployment architecture and collaboration with a virtual team," he said. "We've also learned that the road ahead will take a lot of work [to] navigate."

The alliance is unique in its composition due to the members' large collective data volume and national footprint, O'Meara said. Quest is connected to more than 650 electronic health records (EHR) platforms and a majority of health systems and physicians in the US, "bringing a unique level of insight into how to connect people and organizations across healthcare," he said.

Quest calls itself a diagnostic information services provider because much of the value the company brings to healthcare derives from its ability to turn diagnostic results into actionable insights, O'Meara said.

"We're more than a lab provider, and our Quanum Solutions portfolio of data analytics and HIT [health IT] reflect this larger capability," O'Meara said. "We continually incorporate the most advanced IT into our business to ensure we can provide insights that are clinically relevant and actionable. That ranges from bioinformatics to AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning to digital pathology."

One example is the work Quest is doing with SMART Health IT,an open, standards-based technology platform that enables organizations to create applications that seamlessly and securely run across the healthcare system. It's using SMART with Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR), a standard describing data formats and an application programming interface (API) for exchanging EHR.

"One of our goals is to help providers and health systems maximize the value of their EHRs," by deploying applications using SMART and FHIR technologies that can help improve interoperability with different data systems, O'Meara said.

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