MINNEAPOLIS — UnitedHealth Group agreed to partner with a rival health insurer and one of the country’s largest lab testing companies in a pilot project to examine sharing health care data through blockchain technology.

Minnesota-based UnitedHealth announced Monday that it will work with Kentucky-based Humana, New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics and a New York firm called MultiPlan. The financial details of the partnership weren’t disclosed, the Star Tribune reported .

Blockchain is software that began as a way to create a secure digital environment for exchanging financial information, said Mike Jacobs, a senior distinguished engineer at UnitedHealth Group’s Optum division for health care services.

Industries outside the realm of digital currencies are now exploring the option of using nonpublic blockchains for their enterprises.

“This is likely one of the very first nationwide health care blockchain alliances,” Jacobs said. “Health care in general is just getting started on understanding what the appropriate uses are of this technology.”

Officials hope the project will improve data accuracy, streamline administration and expand access to care. The industry is estimated to spend more than $2 billion annually to maintain provider data, the companies said in a statement.

The partnership’s first objective will be to see if the technology can make sure the list of doctors and hospitals within a health plan’s directory of network providers stays accurate and current.

The project is designed to address business problems for multiple companies that share information, Jacobs said. A lab company routinely picks up samples from clinics and bills health plans for conducting tests. Insurers may reject the claim if a lab company and a health plan have different information listed about those clinics, he said.

“It’s in a diagnostic laboratory’s best interest to ensure that the most up-to-date information is at the insurance company,” Jacobs said. “And the best way to do that is to share the best information that they have on hand, and share it with as many of the insurance companies as possible.”


Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com