Blockchain in healthcare

First Mover advantage: Innovation through blockchain

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In my previous post, Blockchain Rx: A cure for healthcare and life sciences? I explained some of the benefits of implementing blockchain and narrowed down which blockchain use cases in these industries are the most viable, and dove into a key blockchain use case in the life sciences industry. In this post, I will explore the types of healthcare and life sciences organizations that my team is witnessing to be First Movers in blockchain, what the benefits are for these organizations, and how blockchain can have a snowball effect for increasing innovation.

But, who first?

Despite finding in our study of over 200 life sciences executives, Team Medicine: How life sciences can win with blockchain, that life sciences is trailing behind some first wave industries in implementing blockchain, there are certain shared characteristics between the companies that are taking that first leap. First, 73 percent of these early adopters, called First Movers in the study, expect that blockchain will help them overcome “institutional inertia,” or bureaucratic processes and legacy systems that slow down their ability to innovate and adapt. Second, they hope that the technology will bring them closer to the patient, which is increasingly important in an industry where the business and the end-user are distanced by many intermediaries and there is a widespread lack of consumer trust.

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Healthcare organizations we found in our study Healthcare rallies for blockchains: Keeping the patients at the center, are similar to life sciences in their belief that blockchain will positively impact imperfect information. In both these industries, much patient and clinical data is digitized, but regulations keep organizations from sharing data, and the lack of interoperability standards adds friction to the exchange of information. In addition, shared data is often not trusted due to incomplete information or errors from multiple manual re-entries. On a blockchain platform, however, as trust in the data becomes “embedded in each transaction,” institutions can reconsider these boundaries — such as the boundaries between payers and providers in the case of healthcare, or the boundaries between pharmaceutical manufacturers and the end-consumer in the case of life sciences — bringing significant disruption to the respective industries. With this disruption comes opportunity, and many organizations are exploring, testing and implementing blockchain to help them adapt — setting a fast pace and charting a direction for early advantage.

Opportunities for First Movers

In my first post, I explored the benefits of being a First Mover for the life sciences industry, including optimized processes, reduced costs and competitive positioning in the industry. These benefits hold true for healthcare organizations as well. For example, in healthcare, my team is seeing major industry payers and providers, who have never traditionally collaborated closely, begin to work together to cut costs and better position themselves. The fact that these organizations have come to us to help them form a joint venture shows that they have already recognized the value of working together and exploring new models, and my team is enabling them to do so with blockchain.

In the face of competition and disruption, the First Mover advantage is a necessity: new entrants to the healthcare space are restructuring the industry, invading traditional business models and putting the entire existing system under torque. In the next five years, the healthcare space, as well as the life sciences industry, will look very different than they have in the last five years. Blockchain could be a way for these new entrants to leapfrog the traditional issues of legacy systems, health data inconsistencies and too many intermediaries. However, blockchain can also be the way for existing players to lower their cost base and help drive, rather than be dragged along by, the restructuring of the industry. It simply depends upon whoever is more willing to invest and adopt first.

Investing in the future of industry

In addition to the characteristics shared by First Movers in the healthcare and life sciences industries explained above, my team has found, as a general rule, that First Movers must not only be open to innovation, but also must be dedicated to investing in innovation. In some cases, these major industry players are determined to be progressive in disrupting their competitors; in other cases, organizations are more motivated by being predatory in cutting costs and optimizing their current business. Either way, these companies are considering their landscapes in the years to come as technology enables entirely new business models, and are investing the time and money driving themselves towards an advantageous position in the future of their industry.

As my team helps these organizations build this strategy, we take into consideration not only blockchain, but many other disruptive and enabling technologies such as cognitive, cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT). Rather than simply mapping out how a specific process, like a supply chain, could become “track-and-traceable” on a blockchain, it’s more interesting for us to envision hundreds of thousands of points of IoT data and other sources of shared data flowing into a blockchain, all secure and trusted and validated in the cloud, organized into an end-to-end business process like never before. Then, we can layer analytics onto this structure, or weave it into the many inflection points in this chain and become infinitely more predictive.

Today, this is still only a vision of how these cutting-edge technologies will work together, as many of these processes and this infrastructure are still being mapped out. However, the healthcare and life sciences organizations that are working with us to make this vision a reality are building the future of their industries, and inherently driving their own success. I urge you not to wait or risk being left behind; reach out to me or one of my colleagues to learn more about what we are doing with blockchain in healthcare and life sciences.

To find out more, visit the IBM Institute of Business Value Blockchain library.

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