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Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight: Meet Richard Bloch, Hyperledger Healthcare SIG Chair

By | Blog, Community Spotlight, Special Interest Group

Welcome to our Community Spotlight series, which highlights the work of those taking on leadership roles in our special interest and working groups. Meet Richard Bloch, chair of the Hyperledger Healthcare Special Interest Group (HC-SIG) and founder of Digital Healthcare I/O.

Tell us about yourself. Describe your current role, your current business and background, and your involvement in the Hyperledger HC-SIG.

My name is Rich Bloch. Professionally, I have over 30 years of systems and software engineering and engineering management experience. I spent my first 10 years at Microsoft Corporation, developing Microsoft Word and Microsoft Flight Simulator. After leaving Microsoft to start my consulting groups, Business Learning Incorporated (businesslearninginc.com) and Digital Healthcare I/O (digitalhealthcare.io), I’ve spent much of my career working across a broad range of technology domains including Government (the FAA and various DoD agencies), aerospace, satellite engineering, and of course, healthcare.

I also serve as a community volunteer on the Board of Trustees as Chair, and am a Past Chair of the Foundation Board for Northwest Kidney Centers (NKC), the world’s first dialysis provider and the third largest non-profit kidney care organization in the US. In the chronic kidney disease (CKD) domain, I’m an active community speaker and advocate. In 2019, I was honored to deliver the keynote address at the Patient Engagement at UW Medicine Workshop presented by the Department of Medicine at the University of Washington.

I currently chair the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Healthcare Special Interest Group (HC-SIG), an international membership of over 1,000 healthcare professionals interested in identifying and using blockchain technology frameworks and tools to develop real-world, enterprise-grade solutions across the healthcare technologies domain.

What is one issue or problem blockchain can solve in the healthcare industry today? 

It’s important to remember that blockchain technologies–which is a suite of complementary technologies including digital ledger technologies (DLT), self sovereign identity management (SSI), and cryptocurrencies/tokens–is less a stand-alone solution as it a set of unique technologies and protocols. So, to me, the real strength of blockchain technologies are in their universality of applicability. In an article that recently I co-authored, I liken our current understanding of blockchain technologies to the introduction of the Internet back in the early 1990s. Back then, no one really understood what the scope and capabilities were of these new and complex protocols, but we learned and grew to develop successful solutions that ran across the Internet that–today–seem commonplace and natural.

So, to answer the question of what one issue or problem that blockchain technologies might solve in healthcare today, I really can’t say. We’re right now solving many problems in the healthcare domain using all aspects of blockchain technologies–as we understand them today–and I fully expect to develop increasingly more complex solutions as we mature our understanding and use of these blockchain technologies. Some really great enterprise-grade solutions that exist in healthcare today that couldn’t otherwise exist without utilizing aspects of blockchain technologies include the Synaptic Health Alliance , which seeks to identify efficiencies in sharing provider credentialing across payer groups, and the recent collaboration between Boehringer Ingelheim and IBM to develop a more effective, higher quality, and safer clinical trials workflow in Canada.

Where do you hope to see Hyperledger and/or blockchain in five years? 

I very much believe that our understanding of blockchain technologies, and even the technologies themselves, are extremely immature. Consider us at a version 1.0 in the industry. There’s tremendous room to grow here. So, even over this next year, and further into the future, my expectation is that we’ll be developing and implementing blockchain technologies that–while fundamentally recognizable as what we know today–will be significantly improved across many domains including: 

Governance: From nothing today to something tangible and operationally effective, opening up blockchain technologies to a much broader spectrum of customers and industries that simply cannot operate without established governance strategies in place

Understanding: We, as implementers, will have gained experience, and from that experience, wisdom, in how best to make use of these unique technologies

Systems: Better, faster, safer systems are on the horizon thanks to much easier systems-level integration and interoperability. Operationally, performance and scalability will be at parity to more contemporary solutions. And underlying encryption and credentialing technologies will continue to improve, making for an increasingly frictionless implementation experience.

What is the HC-SIG working on currently? Any new developments to share? 

The Hyperledger Healthcare Special Interest Group (HC-SIG) is designed around the personal and professional interests of our international membership. We maintain two fundamental tiers of engagement to keep members informed of activities within and across the SIG:

  • HC-SIG General: Our “front door” to newer members joining the SIG, as well as a more cross-cutting view of the work that we do in our subgroups and ad hoc teams
  • Subgroups and Teams: Key to developing actionable solutions within this SIG,  each subgroup and team focuses on a special area of interest driven by their respective charter/mission statement

With that said, here’s a quick summary of the work being done across our HC-SIG subgroups and teams:

  • Patient/Member Subgroup: Developing patient-centric blockchain technologies solutions. A past solution focused around the implementation of a supply-chain solution developed around the safe distribution of donor milk across healthcare stakeholders. More recently, the subgroup is investigating patient-based access to longitudinal healthcare data.
  • Payer Subgroup: Focused around the payer component of the patient-payer-provider triad in healthcare. The subgroup is developing a white paper that defines a decision support workflow for the successful implementation of blockchain solutions.
  • Healthcare Interoperability Subgroup: Our newest subgroup, with plans to develop a proof-of-concept (POC) that takes a clinical use-case and integrates the policies, transactions and interoperable, clinical knowledge artifacts (assets) into a distributed solution.
  • Academic Research Team: Developing approaches to better present blockchain technologies to academic institutions such that healthcare stakeholders that rely upon and value independent, peer reviewed journals might gain a more objective and trusting understanding of these technologies
  • Use Case Development Team: Developing use cases within the context of the healthcare industry to model blockchain technologies implementation best practices

What’s the most important milestone for the Hyperledger HC-SIG to reach by the end of 2019? 

The HC-SIG exists to engage, educate, and interoperate with our membership. While the charters/mission statements of each of our HC-SIG subgroups and teams differ accordingly, growing and maturing our understanding of membership needs, and how best we might serve them, is fundamental and primary to our ongoing success as a worldwide community of healthcare professionals.

Why should someone participate in the group? Why is it important for Hyperledger to encourage collaboration around adopting blockchain technologies in this industry?

I’m often asked this question of “why should I participate?” and my answer is always this: active membership in the HC-SIG puts you in touch with the unprecedented resource of over 1,000 people around the world who are pre-filtered to have an active interest in healthcare technologies/IT, and then filtered again by their interests/knowledge in applying blockchain technologies to this industry. It’s really a pretty amazing group of professionals who come together every couple of weeks to help one another discuss and solve difficult problems in their respective healthcare communities.

What are a few ways people can participate in and contribute to the HC-SIG? 

As mentioned before, the HC-SIG is designed around the personal and professional interests of our membership. We provide many opportunities for focusing specific interests on blockchain technologies solutions in healthcare either through our HC-SIG subgroups or our ad hoc teams. And, in the spirit of a true open access, open source community, if members don’t see something that interests them, they have full authority and leadership support to develop a new subgroup or team that appeals to them. It’s almost a certainty that there will be others with similar interests who would love to participate in that new idea, whatever it may be.

How can people get involved in the HCSIG? 

This group is run as an open community effort and everyone is welcome to get involved.  The group has regular meetings, a mailing list and a chat channel. For each of these you are welcome to join, introduce yourself, ask questions and take part in the discussion.  There is no invitation necessary and you can simply follow the information on the group wiki to learn how to get involved in the calls, the list and the chat.

Photo credit: CB Bell Media