HealthVault: Can Microsoft's Personal Health Records System Change the Face of Healthcare?

Microsoft's new system to track personal health information aims to make it easy for patients to manage their health care. The program must overcome privacy concerns and win buy-in from many different players.

By Diann Daniel
Tue, October 16, 2007

CIO — Meet Lisa. Lisa is a mother of two children, whose mother, coping with diabetes and asthma, lives with her. Microsoft’s recently released free personal health record system, HealthVault, was created with someone like Lisa in mind. HealthVault can enable Lisa to upload her mother’s peak-flow and glucose readings to her computer and share them with doctors. She can track her children’s immunizations, allergies, illnesses and doctor’s visits; search for information on illnesses and save to the HealthVault “scrapbook” what she finds.

As “custodian” of this health data, Lisa sets who sees what; for example, her daughter’s track coach can see only relevant fitness information, and her son’s doctor sees only his information. And she can choose add-ons from HealthVault partners. For example, Lisa could select the “in case of emergency” application and print out cards for her family to enable emergency room personnel to see crucial health information. (When she searches HealthVault for information, Lisa also will see advertisements which support the program’s business model.)

The Lisa’s of the world represent what Peter Neupert, Microsoft corporate vice president for Health Strategy and former CEO of Drugstore.com, would call a “family health manager.” And family health managers are crucial to the success of HealthVault.

HealthVault was designed for such family health managers who want simplified interactions with their healthcare providers. HealthVault, Microsoft’s first foray into the consumer health space (it has already been a software provider to hospitals and health care providers) has ambitious goals, said Neupert at the product launch: “The real promise is can we connect all of the providers, all of the hospitals, all of the pharmacies, all of the imaging labs, so that it's easy like today banking is easy. It is possible to make it easy for people to take their data from the source data providers, and put it in a simple area where they can manage it.” The question is: Can HealthVault advance such a goal?

Health care information today is on the whole a fragmented maze that both consumers and healthcare providers must spend time and money navigating. But with privacy fears, doctors’ distrust of patient-initiated health information and difficulty getting user traction to overcome, Microsoft will face an uphill battle in using HealthVault as a key to connecting health care silos.

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