Cigna, Sentara Healthcare join IBM blockchain initiative

The group of providers building a health utility network using blockchain has just grown by two members, with not-for-profit system Sentra Healthcare and Cigna joining the IBM-backed network.


Blockchain is hailed as an ideal digital record keeping system that creates a new way to share and secure data across a business network in real time, while maintaining permissioned access and other security regulations.

By enabling collaborations between caregivers, patients, and other players in the ecosystem, blockchain could fuel faster connections, more quickly update patient information, and improve overall quality of care.

“Blockchain is poised to help solve some of healthcare’s most crucial data security, and IT interoperability issues as we look to implement new customer-centric healthcare delivery models,” Sentara’s SVP and chief information and innovation officer Mike Reagin said in a statement.


In January, health insurers including Aetna, now owned by CVS Health, launched a collaboration with PNC Bank and IBM to design a blockchain healthcare network, an initiative which also includes Anthem and Health Care Service Corporation.

The network will have several areas of focus, including leveraging the distributed ledger technology to facilitate the transition to value-based care, such as bundled payment arrangements.

In addition, participating organizations will help to further define the initial use cases for the health utility network– revenue cycle management, for example, particularly prior authorization, is also an area of focus for blockchain use cases.

Blockchain technology could also help health care players tackle issues around data transparency and access, as well as the accuracy of the data, within a broadly collaborative ecosystem.

One of the major benefits blockchain technology could provide for healthcare organizations is a longitudinal health record for patients that can update in real-time, saving another major area of waste in the healthcare industry — time.


More members are expected to be added to the network, including other health organizations, providers, startups and ISVs, according to a statement.

IBM, which has500 blockchain projects across multiple industries, is also a member of Hyperledger, an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies.

In addition, IBM and PNC started work on deploying blockchain to create new ways of payment in the healthcare industry, focusing on shared efficiencies and to drive adoption of bundled payments as a reimbursement mechanism.

This is not the first instance of health care companies banding together around blockchain—in April 2018 Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Optum began a blockhain pilot program along with the national lab testing company Quest Diagnostics and MultiPlan.

The group of companies is testing the use of blockchain to improve the accuracy of provider directories, with an initial focus on using the distributed ledger technology to improve the quality of provider demographic data.

Despite some concerns over blockchain and the untested nature of the technology, a 2017 survey published by Black Book Research found 70% percent of payers planning to have blockchain integrated into their systems by the start of 2019.

The survey also revealed 90 percent of medical group managers and IT specialists think blockchain will resolve and expedite most concerns of connectivity, privacy and patient record sharing.


Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin. 

Email the writer: [email protected]

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

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