Guest post: Aaron Symanski, CTO, Change Healthcare

In many of the discussions that I have had regarding blockchain, business models are a frequent topic. Why use a new technology like blockchain instead of an existing, well understood, proven, cost effective technology? What makes blockchain radically different?

To answer, let’s start with a simple history of the evolution of communication, the evolution of how one person shared a concept with another person. What was visual (point at it), became verbal (speak and hear), became written (write and read), and then became an electronic transmission. Telegraph became radio became television. Each approach was essentially the same: describe something in enough detail such that the listener could create the same picture in their mind or on their device.

In these approaches, the sender strives for enough detail that the listener can create an identical view. Complete accuracy is difficult.  Differences are basically guaranteed, especially if changes occur to the picture by either party. Reconciliations attempt to repair the differences.  Doubts gather whether the sender and receiver are staying on the same page. In some cases, the cost of reconciliation is so high that it is simply ignored and differences accumulate.

Some mitigations have arisen. The simplistic sending of a flat file, as a description of the object, has moved to the use of APIs. Systems now agree to the verbs used with an object and to use the verbs to communicate actions about the object. These verbs make up an API. With such, two or more systems can communicate about an object without actually exchanging the object.  Color the car red, Credit the account $500.

Blockchain technology adds a new approach to our toolkits. Blockchain technology enables the sender and receiver to always interact with the same object, the same noun. The local copy of the object is complete and synchronized across each participant of the blockchain network. No explicit interpretation or reconciliation needed. We now have a new tool, a new ability to share the noun, a single noun. The historic approaches of trying to describe, create, and work through verbs are not limiters any more.

By sharing the noun, blockchains create opportunities for new paradigms where all participants see the same object and every change to the object. The verbs do not need to be agreed upon. This freedom to interact with the noun, a shared object, without agreement as to how, is a very different and new approach.

How do we think about existing business models in a model of sharing the noun? Submitting a medical claim becomes simply placing it on the blockchain. After that, all participants can edit, approve, pay, reject, bundle, and take any action they want on the claim. Imagine six companies, sharing a blockchain. Each has connected their systems to the blockchain to take action as changes are seen on the chain, and to submit their own changes to the chain. Everyone on the network can work simultaneously. As every participant sees every change on the claim, taking action on edits becomes easy and automatic.

This model of sharing a noun is unlike any business process today. No longer restricted by previous modes of communication, we can each see the same noun and operate on it together. We have an opportunity to move from linear, assembly-line workflows to constant and simultaneous interaction. This is an exciting opportunity and to explore it, we must begin using blockchains in our production processes. We should not seek the “killer app.” Instead, we should create a thousand new opportunities for new interactions, value creation, and niches in our ecosystems. As these opportunities succeed and some fail, we will learn. Let’s begin exploring the uncharted areas of our maps.