I think that one of the best things that’s going to happen in the next ten years, that’s going to have the greatest impact on society, is the convergence of consumer genomics and healthcare services; consumers taking an interest in their genetic data and the development of highly personalized health services. The liquidity of that information with mobile technology and telemedicine, and in the consumer space with companies like 23andMe and Helix, is really going to drive consumer interest in their health. Being able to have healthcare services at the tip of your fingers informed by a highly-accurate genetic profile data is going to dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare, and it’s going to improve the sense of responsibility that people have over their health. It’s going to help them understand what they can and can’t control. Both technology and the culture of medicine have some ground to cover first, but I think it will make health services accessible, accurate and affordable for everyone, and that’s really going to change everything.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Vaughn, Product Development Director for Blockchain at Change Healthcare, overseeing blockchain development and integration strategy. Emily is a founding contributor to Distributed.com and Distributed: Health, and the Hyperledger Healthcare Working Group.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
EV: Sure. I got into cryptocurrency and Blockchain technology right at the beginning of my career. I had been out of college for only a couple of years and hadn’t really figured out what I wanted to do. I was working as a communications director for a wealth management company, when my boyfriend discovered Bitcoin and introduced it to me. It was a passion of his, and I learned about it so that I could hold a conversation with him because that’s all he wanted to talk about. During this time, I developed an earnest but casual interest in bitcoin as a financial asset. It wasn’t until I attended my first Bitcoin conference in Atlanta 2013 that I saw how far-reaching the technology could be.
It wasn’t just about currencies to me after that. I saw a bigger opportunity in having a system of proof that anyone could use to claim their identity or any digital representation of value, which goes well beyond financial assets. And that really spoke to me, because my educational background was in international conflict and international politics and I saw this as a technology that could give power and mobility to individuals.
It was clear to me that this was the future of digital citizenship, so I started buying bitcoin. I was lucky in my timing and had earned enough money by investing in it to fund my hobby of going to Bitcoin conferences, meeting more people, learning about the industry and trying to identify my entry point.
At the time, the Bitcoin industry was really new. There weren’t a lot of marketing and communication roles at any of the companies, any of the startups. Blockchain wasn’t a thing. Ethereum (an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform and operating system) hadn’t even been invented yet. The industry looked a lot different than it does now. And I saw an opportunity for myself to develop marketing and communication expertise for these startups that were mostly run by technologists and finding themselves newly wealthy. I started marketing myself as an event marketer, brand specialist, communications manager — whatever was needed to bring more users and visibility to these companies. And within a few months, I landed a career-defining role at BitPay.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
EV: Today, I’m leading the Blockchain technology strategy for Change Healthcare, who leads the US market with the largest healthcare transaction network in the world. I direct our blockchain adoption across different product lines, and within our core technology strategy. You can think of Change Healthcare as having a core infrastructure that supports all of our software and services. Blockchain technology is eventually going to transform each layer of our business.
One of our first projects was bringing the an enterprise-grade Blockchain network to healthcare, to have it running in production with our clearinghouse network, which covers 2/3 of the country’s insurance claims transactions. I would say the next step for us is to extend it to a cloud environment and make it more accessible across our product teams and customers. We recently announced plans to do this via Amazon Web Services.
At the same time, we are activating practical solutions across revenue cycle management, clinical data exchange, and patient and caregiver engagement.
The goal is to provide network infrastructure to developers across the industry, while also developing solutions for healthcare’s end-users: payers, providers, and patients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward, who helped get you to where you are?
EV: I mentioned my boyfriend, now fiancée, David, who has been single-handedly one of the most impactful people to my career. Even before he introduced me to Bitcoin, when we were still getting out of school, he encouraged me to take risks with my career. He told me that I could afford to take a few falls, that I could afford the time to figure out what works for me in the real world. He helped me reconcile my misgivings about grad school and see the opportunity in uncertainty. He’s always encouraged me to put my career first, sticking with me over the years as I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta to Los Angeles. He really supported my independence and my career development and he continues to do so knowing that it’s a very important part of my identity — doing work that I feel proud of and that I think is making a difference.
What are some things that worry you about blockchain and crypto?
EV: I absolutely believe that this technology is going to succeed, in many forms, in becoming ubiquitous across many use cases and industries. But there are challenges in the industry… For example, blockchain technology is not very user friendly. It shouldn’t have to be, because it’s a network infrastructure like the back-end of the internet, yet it’s marketed as a consumer technology. There was a moment in consumer adoption of the internet, for example the convergence of AOL email and PCs, that brought computing and connectivity into the home and everyday life. The average user experience for managing crypto assets still has a way to go, in my opinion, but that tipping point is just around the corner. Hopefully in time for the next bubble.
Another challenge for both adoption and governance is that, even the public blockchains are not as decentralized as people think they are. If you look at the Ethereum and Bitcoin networks, you can see that there are millions of users globally, but the code bases of those technologies are still controlled by a relatively small group of developers. Additionally, network operations — bitcoin mining — is no longer economic for small participants, and this is by design! So it has become centralized to handful of companies mostly in China. You have legions of people touting the value and power of decentralization, but you should question how decentralized these systems really are. And then consider how decentralized they need to be in order for them to work. That’s a question more for product designers and managers when trying to figure out what to do with their Blockchain solution. Very often you hear that a solution needs to be as “permissionless” and decentralized as possible. But the standards for permissionless and decentralized systems are really more of an ideal than a reality.
That brings up the third challenge, which is that there’s quite a bit of ideology that controls the narrative around what this technology should and shouldn’t be used for. For example, the idea that blockchain technology can only be applied to finance is laughably short-sighted. The convention of bitcoin is a challenge to the very meaning of money and currency. Cryptocurrency doesn’t represent money; it represents power within a network, power that’s accessible now to virtually anyone. Money is not the only way to assert power in society — especially in the dawn of the internet. Identity, property, and information have become methods for digital mobility and, with blockchain technology, they will eventually become more useful than “bank notes.” In the future, if we’re exchanging services with data, can that really be called finance? I don’t know.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
EV: I think that the work that I’m doing to bring Blockchain technology to healthcare has a great potential impact on the world. It’s a large part of what motivates me. If I’m successful, or if Change Healthcare’s successful, if the whole Blockchain healthcare movement is successful, then we stand to achieve unprecedented levels of personalization in healthcare services and greater control for patients. Mobility of health and financial information could literally save lives, and it could reduce the cost of healthcare. If we’re successful, my children will grow up in a world with competitive, personalized and affordable healthcare services, where they will be empowered as a stakeholder in their care.
What three things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
· As far as advice — You have to make your opportunity happen. I think that that advice rings true for any emerging market. A lot of people look at their skills and background, and they kind of wait for a door to open for them, for someone to post a job opening. But you have to build the door, and then you have to walk through it.
· Also, you must be willing to take risks in your career if you want to grow fast. People who walk a difficult path are going to stumble every now and then. You have to be flexible and somewhat comfortable with uncertainty to make something out of nothing.
· The third lesson that I tell people is to be yourself. Do what you can do. I would have failed if I had tried to be a graphic designer. I would have failed if I had tried to be a software engineer. I had to figure out what I could do as a young woman, as a marketer. I had to figure out what I could do to bring value, and I had to make that case for myself, sometimes over and over again, until I found the right team and a gap that I could fill.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
EV: I think that one of the best things that’s going to happen in the next ten years, that’s going to have the greatest impact on society, is the convergence of consumer genomics and healthcare services; consumers taking an interest in their genetic data and the development of highly personalized health services. The liquidity of that information with mobile technology and telemedicine, and in the consumer space with companies like 23andMe and Helix, is really going to drive consumer interest in their health. Being able to have healthcare services at the tip of your fingers informed by a highly-accurate genetic profile data is going to dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare, and it’s going to improve the sense of responsibility that people have over their health. It’s going to help them understand what they can and can’t control. Both technology and the culture of medicine have some ground to cover first, but I think it will make health services accessible, accurate and affordable for everyone, and that’s really going to change everything.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
EV: My Twitter handle is @bitsmash
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
EV: Thank you so much; it’s been my pleasure.