The planned blockchain-based network could be used to slash costs around claims processing, payments and maintaining provider directories
Aetna and other US health insurers are to work with IBM on a blockchain-based system intended to cut costs in the healthcare industry.
The launch is the latest large-scale trial using the distributed ledger technology, which powers the Bitcoin virtual currency.
The companies said they want to use blockchain to improve transparency and interoperability.
“The aim is to create an inclusive blockchain network that can benefit multiple members of the healthcare ecosystem in a highly secure, shared environment,” the companies said in a statement.
More specifically they intend ot use it to process claims and payments, to securely exchange information and to maintain provider directories.
“Through the application of blockchain technology, we’ll work to improve data accuracy for providers, regulators, and other stakeholders, and give our members more control over their own data,” said Aetna chief technology officer Claus Jensen.
IBM said blockchain was uniquely suited for use by large networks of members to exchange sensitive data in a permissioned, controlled and transparent way.
“The fact that these major healthcare players have come together to collaborate indicates the value they see in working together to explore new models that we think could drive more efficiency in the healthcare system and ultimately improve the patient experience,” said IBM general manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences Lori Steele.
The other initial members of the group are Anthem, Health Care Service Corp and financial services provider PNC Bank.
The companies said they are initially working to identify use cases, after which they plan to add additional members to the network, including other health organisations, healthcare providers, startups and technology companies.
Last April health insurers Humana, United Healthcare Group and other health firms formed another blockchain alliance aimed more specifically at maintaining provider directories, which are estimated to cost the healthcare industry at least $2.1 billion (£1.61bn) a year to maintain.
Aetna and Ascension, the US’ largest non-profit health provider, are also partners in that project.
Last August Anthem launched a 12-month trial involving artificial intelligence data based on blockchain technology from doc.ai.
The financial services industry has also begun trialling blockchain for a number of use cases, with one estimate suggesting the technology could save banks £9.7bn a year in reduced infrastructure costs.
Blockchain is also being trialled in areas as widely varied as protecting food safety and enabling smart contracts in the videogame industry.