Today, we’re all citizens of the Digital Nation. It’s a vast expanse, a limitless data-scape, where data is both the currency and the lingua franca. That was a key premise of the VM Summit talk by Andrew Karp, VM’s group editor for lenses and technology.

Karp asserted that being a digital citizen brings with it certain rights and responsibilities. Concerning rights, he believes that digital citizens should expect data privacy from the companies and institutions they connect with online, unless specific permission is granted.

Yet Karp noted that even if we grant permission to share our data, modern technology can make it difficult to know exactly what data we’re sharing, and with whom. The Internet of Things is a case in point. “Our home thermostats, smart TVs, refrigerators, watches, phones and yes, smart glasses, are recording every move we make. Who is collecting and probably selling that data? In whose hands will it end up?” he asked.

The more data we share about ourselves, the more others know about us, allowing a more personal and detailed a data portrait of ourselves to be created. As Karp pointed out, these days, our data profile might well include biometric data such as a facial scan. Our physical selves might even be represented in the form of DNA data.

Vision Monday’s Andrew Karp kicked off the afternoon Summit sessions with a look at the impact of new technologies.

“It’s up to us to find a way to ethically manage the data that flows to, through and from us,” Karp said. Toward that end, he urged Summit attendees to make use of available rules and tools to protect ourselves and our data. The rules should include a code of data ethics that can be applied to a company’s transactions with its customers, employees and all other stakeholders throughout the data-scape. He proposed three key principles derived from Accenture Labs’ Universal Principles for Data Ethics:

- Respect the persons behind the data.
- Account for the downstream uses of datasets.
- Design practices that incorporate transparency, configurability, accountability and auditability.

Karp cited blockchain technology as being one of the most promising new tools for protecting data. Introducing the blockchain portion of the Summit program he said, “Blockchain is making data more transparent, secure and accessible for everyone in the data-scape including businesses, health care providers, payers and, ultimately, consumers and patients.”

Blockchain: Why it Really Matters
Jill Malandrino, a global markets reporter at Nasdaq, introduced the discussion of blockchain by trying to simplify the technology with a comparison to a computer operating system that records and stores transactions. While blockchain technology often is viewed as tied to the advent of the bitcoin digital currency market, she said it’s “crucial to understand that they are not the same thing” even though the underlying blockchain technology does provide the means to record and store bitcoin transactions because cryptocurrency doesn’t have a central clearing authority.

“Bitcoin is a fraction of what’s capable and what can be done with blockchain technology,” she said.

She noted, however, that if one thinks of blockchain as akin to an operating system, there are innumerable processes or applications (such as bitcoin and other cryptocurrency) that can be operated as apps on this operating system.

“Virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded on the blockchain network, reducing risk, cutting costs and improving transparency,” she explained. Examples of this include managing payments and transferring securities. “Anything that is transaction based, then part of that technology can be applied here,” she said, noting that blockchain technology provides proof of ownership.

Another example of where blockchain can improve efficiency is the supply chain for food, which brings together elements such as growers, packagers, processors and even grocers across multiple regions or even countries, she noted.

“It’s not just a means of tracking the distribution system, it’s also a record producer,” she said.

With these attributes, blockchain technology has the potential to be “transformational for the health care industry,” she said, and understanding the value of blockchain is no longer just a practice for developers and IT teams but runs all the way up to the C-suite and decision-makers within an enterprise.

(L to R) Headlining the Blockchain panel are Jill Malandrino of Nasdaq, Janine Grasso of IBM and Roger Smith, AdventHealth Nicholson Center.

IBM’s Blockchain Initiatives
Janine Grasso, IBM’s vice president, strategy, operations and ecosystem development for blockchain, provided attendees somewhat of a primer on what blockchain is and isn’t today. She explained that the technology behind blockchain is not new, but rather “has been around for ages.” She added, “The way it is applied [today] has obviously changed the landscape on how we can bring industry players together.”

IBM, which has been involved with blockchain technology for about five years, has successfully tested the technology internally in its financing business unit in an effort to simplify dispute resolution, Grasso said. Before implementing the technology in this financing business unit, dispute resolution could take up to 45 days, she said. But through applying the technology to this process with suppliers and agents it reduced dispute resolution by about 75 percent. “That’s money in people’s pockets, and they are getting this that much faster.”

Grasso provided an example of how IBM worked with Walmart to address issues related to food safety using blockchain technology. “It was taking Walmart too long to figure out where this [unsafe] food was on the shelf and which farm it came from,” she explained. “What was happening is that they would have to remove all of the inventory, and they were literally throwing thousands or millions of dollars worth of food out because they didn’t want to take a risk.”

One category where Walmart tested the technology was produce, and it found that while previously it might take a few weeks to track an item’s journey back to the farm, with blockchain technology this tracking of an item back to the farm where it originated could be done in two seconds. There are now 500 SKUs using blockchain technology in the supply chain process, which has greatly increased the transparency from “farm to fork,” she said.

Grasso estimated that 20 percent of the work required to create a blockchain program among industry partners is related to setting up the enabling technology, while “80 percent of the hard work actually comes from convening a network [and] getting the different industry players together to actually agree on a governance model.”

In the health care space, IBM recently facilitated a blockchain program related to credentialing and claims processing that includes Aetna, Anthem and other firms, Grasso said.

Simplifying the Credentialing Process
Roger Smith, chief technology officer, AdventHealth Nicholson Center, provided another practical example—verifying health care professionals’ credentials—of where blockchain technology can simplify some processes with health care. This would work in such a way that once a medical degree is awarded to a health care professional, the information would be posted to a secure blockchain environment by the individual and the institution, he said.

The individual would have ability to “unlock” the information for other entities to review or access in a quick and efficient manner. “For a physician, the credentialing takes the longest, up to weeks or months,” Smith said. This results in lost revenue for both the health care facility or payer, and the individual physician.

He also noted how blockchain could be beneficial to patients/consumers seeking to stay in-network when accessing health care services. A blockchain environment would permit immediate updating of health care professionals’ movement in or out of networks, thus enabling patients to have real-time information when accessing care.

In addition, Smith said he believes that a year ago there was consensus around using blockchain to handle protected patient data, but this year that thinking has changed. “This year, nobody will ever say that,” he noted. “Why is that? Because of the European laws around GDPR and the expectation that the same thing is going to happen in the United States.”

While patient data included in a blockchain network would be absolutely secure, it also would never be able to be erased, which could create issues if the data were incorrect in some way, Smith said.

— Mark Tosh, Senior Editor