Can blockchain heal what ails healthcare? Lumedic launches new quest for digital identity standards

Lumedic CEO Mike Nash. (Lumedic Photo)

Health technology company Lumedic launched a new effort to create standards for digital identity in healthcare, aiming to streamline the exchange of patient data and remove bottlenecks in the larger healthcare system using blockchain technology.

The Seattle-based company, acquired last year by Providence St. Joseph Health, named Mastercard, Providence, and Cambia Health Solutions as initial partners in the effort. The company announced the initiative, dubbed the Lumedic Exchange, Tuesday morning.

The approach leverages secure digital wallets on patients’ mobile devices, letting them control their healthcare information, and determine how and with whom it can be shared. Data is stored in a private and secure blockchain, the immutable ledger technology best known for powering Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency.

Applied across the healthcare system, Lumedic says the approach would remove much of the friction and ambiguity that exists in healthcare, reducing delays in the delivery of care, making test results accessible faster, and removing the ambiguity from medical bills, in addition to streamlining insurance billing and payments.

At least, that’s the vision. The company knows it will need to overcome a big hurdle first.

“It’s exciting if it gets to scale. The challenge is that it’s hard to get there,” said Mike Nash, the Lumedic CEO, in an interview this week. “I think the standards approach is a necessity for us to get the right groundswell. Otherwise, I don’t know how you how you change an industry like healthcare overnight.”

It’s one of a growing number of healthcare initiatives looking to use blockchain to create new efficiencies in healthcare, while maintaining patient privacy and security. The concept is not new. For example, consulting firm Deliotte said in an August 2016 report, “A blockchain powered health information exchange could unlock the true value of interoperability. Blockchain-based systems have the potential to reduce or eliminate the friction and costs of current intermediaries.”

However, the realities of the pandemic are accelerating the adoption of digital technologies across healthcare. Lumedic parent Providence, one of the largest health systems in the country, says it’s using the company’s technology to streamline the secure and anonymous delivery of COVID-19 test results.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s president for healthcare, said in a statement accompanying the announcement that the company is committed to high data standards, and believes that “individuals own their personal data and have the right to control how it is shared.”

Lumedic says it’s modeling the standards-setting approach on other efforts to collaborate on digital identity across different industries, such as the Trust Over IP (ToIP) Foundation and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The company has grown from four to 50 employees as part Providence, since the acquisition last year. Providence recently rolled up Lumedic and other ventures and investments into a Seattle-based healthcare services company called Tegria, with more than 2,500 employees.