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4 ways blockchain is the new business collaboration tool

4 ways blockchain is the new business collaboration tool

Smart contracts, healthcare data-sharing and microgrids are all taking advantage of the technology.

Large enterprises have always enjoyed an advantage in the global market, be it the capital to absorb the cost of transfer fees (or getting lower fees), better intellectual property protection, and a host of other advantages that come with having more  capital and greater influence.

Blockchain technology helps level the playing field, enabling SMBs to compete in that global market.

For example, the B2B payment service Veem, leverages blockchain to allow its SMB customers to transfer funds internally for no fee; that compares to larger banks that charge around $50 per wire transaction.

Veem's CEO Marwan Forzley believes blockchain is an opportunity to "remove the middle man from international transactions, which directly impacts the experience of paying suppliers and contractors, the timing of these transactions and the fees that are directly impacting the SMBs bottom line."

Sharing patient data, ensuring doctors get paid

While electronic healthcare records (EHRs) have helped in the centralisation of patient data to some extent, sharing that sensitive information with various healthcare providers, such as medical specialists, can be difficult at best because EHR platforms are not standardised across organisations.

Healthcare organisations could use the cryptographically secure, decentralised blockchain ledger to pre-authorize the sharing of a patient's information.

Last year, the MIT Media Lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tested a proof-of-concept that shared information about patient medications through a blockchain ledger called MedRec. MedRec was based on the Ethereum blockchain platform for smart contracts.

In their analysis paper, titled "A Case Study for Blockchain in Healthcare," the MIT and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researchers found blockchain "could contribute to secure, interoperable EHR systems."

In addition, healthcare IT vendors and the U.S. government are exploring blockchain's potential. Earlier this year, IBM's Watson Health artificial intelligence unit signed a two-year joint-development agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to explore using blockchain technology to securely share patient data for medical research and other purposes.

IBM Watson Health and the FDA plan to explore the exchange of patient-level data from several sources, including electronic medical records (EMRs), clinical trials, genomic data and health data from mobile devices, wearables and the "Internet of Things." The initial focus will be on oncology-related information.

Healthcare is also hampered with an inefficient payment system, where insurance companies fight with providers.

"Insurance companies have already given prior approval based on medical necessity or preauthorization and I've got to fight collect it..., really?" said Gene Thomas, CIO of Memorial Hospital, a 445-bed facility in Gulfport, Miss. "Depending on who you talk to, 17 cents, 21 cents... of every healthcare dollar is spent on collections. Are you kidding me?"

Underpinning a shared ledger where all parties involved in a healthcare insurance contract -- patient, provider and payer -- all see the same information at the same time, blockchain has the potential of smoothing out the "arduous, high cost, high friction process.

"Everyone's posting to the same thing, it's all transparent. I've got high hopes that if there's any place blockhchain could actually have an impact in healthcare, it's on [the] revenue cycle side," Thomas said.

In light of that need, Deloitte's report found that healthcare and life sciences have the most aggressive deployment plans for blockchain of any industry, with 35 per cent of survey respondents indicating their organization plans to deploy blockchain within the next year.

Selling energy through microgrids

Because of blockchain, residents of the Park Slope area of Brooklyn are now able to sell power generated from rooftop solar panels via a microgrid enabled by a blockchain ledger that records every transaction made with a local utility.

The physical microgrid, set up by Siemens Digital Grid Division, includes network control systems, converters, lithium-ion battery storage and smart electric meters. In case of another hurricane like Sandy in 2012, residents on the microgrid would continue to have power for a time -- even during a blackout -- as they could switch  to battery reserves.

A microgrid is a form of distributed energy generation that can function independently from the traditional, centralized regional power grid; it can enable towns, small cities or corporations to develop their own energy sources and power storage systems (via lithium-ion or flow batteries), distribute that energy and even sell excess power back to local utilities.

The Brooklyn Microgrid blockchain database is a web-based bookkeeping system that uses cryptographic technology to save energy data in a way that is both inexpensive and forgery-proof, the companies said.

The Brooklyn Microgrid enables residents to sell energy back to the local utility -- a process known as "net metering" -- and it allows those without solar panels to purchase green power credits from their neighbours. The blockchain platform for the microgrid is enabled by Brooklyn-based energy start-up LO3 Energy.

The same blockchain technology that allows residential solar power users to sell excess power back to utilities can do the same for businesses seeking to lower their electricity costs.

This article was originally published on Computerworld.com


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