Microsoft’s launch last week of its online consumer health care management platform, HealthVault, provides individuals with the opportunity to collect and store large bits of medical data, some of it inputted via plug-in personal medical devices, and then make it available to primary care physicians or emergency room docs. Consumers will not yet be able to download critical data held by their physicians or a hospital. HealthVault’s key initial advantage is convenience and, to a lesser degree, its customizability.
HealthVault gives Microsoft a head start on Google, which delayed its entrant into the market, and on Revolution Health, the Steve Case (AOL founder) site which is up and running but has more limited capability.
“Depending on whether you are pessimistic or optimistic, you could say HealthVault is either convenient or transformative,” states Sean Nolan, chief software architect of the Microsoft Health Solutions Group, who chooses the latter adjective. HealthVault offers a personally-driven search engine, a data repository and access to 40 applications and device providers, almost all of which are available outside the Microsoft platform.
Microsoft is ballyhooing the platform’s search capability. Nolan emphasizes that a search on HealthVault will return richer, more personalized results than a search on Google or any other search engine. Nolan says that’s because MedStory, the company Microsoft purchased in February, mines the very detailed minutia in peer-reviewed medical journals, simplifies the material and then coughs it up into much more relevant, narrow search results based on very specific medications and medical procedures.
HealthVault doesn’t offer much more than several competing health records storage software though its security is said to be superior. Deborah Peel, M.D., the founder of the Patient Private Rights Foundation, called the Microsoft security for HealthVault “Fort Knox state of the art.” She added, “This is the first example of a technology product actually guaranteeing patients will be able to protect their information.”
The applications HealthVault offers are not yet especially new though its arrival apparently did spur the development of some applications, such as the American Heart Association’s Blood Pressure Management Center. The hope is that many new applications will quickly materialize now that the platform is up and running.
“It's not unlike the popularity of building applications at ‘Facebook’ based on the personal information stored there, but with MSFT HealthVault, it's for a higher purpose, improving the health of our loved ones,” explains Enoch Choi, M.D., a Palo Alto urgent care doctor, and product manager at MedHelp.org, a HealthVault partner.
The big limitation is that while a user can allow his primary care physician, specialist, or emergency room doc to have immediate access to his records, the user cannot electronically download the health records created by those providers, unless the provider has HealthVault compliant software.
“Any customer of Kryptiq, of which there are hundreds, and many real patients within the Medstar network of seven hospitals, can use the technology today to begin exchanging information,” says Nolan. “And many of our largest partners, such as New York Presbyterian Hospital, have announced active projects to make information available as well. It will certainly be an incremental advance and a long journey … but we have demonstrated some strides forward already.”
Given the slowness with which physicians and hospitals have adopted the technology needed to support electronic health records, it is hard to see them moving any faster to purchase HealthVault software. It may be, though, that if the platform catches on, consumers will be pushing their providers to get on board. In fact, may EHRs will become irrelevant. Nolan doesn’t think so. He uses the analogy of needing both his online site for his bank and his Quicken software. “Physician health records and personal health logs have the same relationship,” he explains. “Having just one or the other would lead to a pretty sticky ecosystem. Both things need to happen to really make this fly.”
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