Health informatics chair speaks at SXSW 2018

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MHCI chair discussed blockchain, the database technology behind Bitcoin, in Austin,Texas

This past March, Beth Breeden, associate professor and director of graduate studies in health care informatics, was invited to be part of a panel discussing the emerging uses of blockchain technology in health care at one of America’s premier music, tech and film festivals: South by Southwest, abbreviated as SXSW, in Austin, Texas.

SXSW overtakes Austin for ten days each spring. Started in the 1980s, it has steadily grown to more than 100,000 singing, blogging, tweeting and texting young and old participants who want a front row seat for peering into the future. The tech portion of SXSW, a world-renowned event, is recognized as a premier conference on emerging technology, where innovators from around the globe showcase their solutions.

This year’s offerings included more than 2,100 sessions plus a futuristic trade and exhibit show. Guest speakers  included entrepreneur Elon Musk as well as a host of recognizable influencers in the entertainment industry and politics.

“Blockchain was identified as one of the 12 significant programming trends for SXSW18. It was explored for its potential to positively impact industries ranging from health care to finance to entertainment. There were nearly 40 blockchain sessions offered,” said Breeden, who has been instrumental in bringing various technology partnerships to Lipscomb to benefit pharmacy and informatics students as well as their future patients.

This past year, Lipscomb became a member of the Hashed Health Consortium, a group of organizations led by Nashville-based Hashed Health devoted to leveraging blockchain and distributed ledger technologies to transform the health care industry. Lipscomb was the first academic institution to join the consortium.

Several blockchain use cases were discussed by Breeden’s panel at SXSW, including Lipscomb College of Pharmacy’s blockchain graduation verification solution, Nashville-based Hashed Health’s provider licensure and credentialing program, Change Healthcare’s enterprise-scale payment transaction and claims processing solutions and HealthVerity’s e-consent application.

“We identified the health care crisis as primarily a financial one, with excessive prices, too much friction and outcomes peppered across the care continuum leaving much to be desired,” Breeden said of the panel discussion. “Many of the inefficiencies in health care stem from solutions which negatively impact workflow, stifle interoperability, don’t offer ample security and most importantly, fail to adequately include the patient.

"Enter blockchain, which is a decentralized, distributed and public ledger of digital transactions shared across a network of computers. Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, is recognized for its ability to share data in a secure and tamperproof way,” she said.

“Of great interest to the SXSW audience was the question of whether blockchain-enabled electronic health records would provide solutions to the health care crisis. There was agreement that the potential is certainly there but solutions are not scaled as of yet,” Breeden said.

“Blockchain development is in its infancy but holds the potential to have a great impact on health care by allowing immediate access, for example, to safe and trusted data elements associated with patients, patient care, providers, health care claims, etc. Significant efforts are underway to develop solutions in this space, and the next one to two years promise to be some of the most exciting.”

At the SXSW trade show, with more than 300 exhibitors, Breeden stopped at the booth sponsored by IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association, to review patient care technology of the future.

“I put on the VR headset and was transported to a full 360° immersion of a health care facility with a patient room, patient and associated treatment and diagnostic resources,” she said. “One option directed me to a hand-held device (think Star Trek tricorder) to hold over the virtual patient.  Patient information was visible including the name and age, along with additional clinical information.

“SXSW18 remains one of the most interesting conferences that I have ever attended, with its focus areas of technology, film and music. It offers the ability to pull the curtain back and view into the future. I was honored to be a part of the blockchain panel and excited for Lipscomb’s pharmacy and health care informatics programs to be represented on this international stage,”