October 4, 2007 7:00 AM PDT

Microsoft plans medical-record service

Microsoft is aiming to get consumers to store all of their health records online. It's a laudable goal, but one fraught with challenges.

On Thursday the company is outlining its vision, dubbed HealthVault, in which a person can view, from one place, their complete health records. Consumers will be able to view information from medical devices, myriad health care providers and insurance companies as well as share that information with health care providers of their choosing or search for information related to their health issues.

In conjunction with the health record effort, Microsoft is also launching HealthVault Search, a secure version of its health care search engine, drawn from its acquisition of Medstory.

It's a bold vision, but one that is probably years from reality. First of all, most consumers don't have electronic access to their health records today. As part of the new HealthVault service Microsoft is announcing, hospitals, insurance companies and others will be able to make such records available to consumers, though no major providers are committing to do so as part of HealthVault's initial launch.

"It's a long journey," said Peter Neupert, the former Drugstore.com chief who is now head of Microsoft's health care efforts. "We think it's an important stake to put in the ground."

As with any sort of health care records, there are all kinds of privacy and security questions, though Microsoft is hoping to assuage most concerns by putting the consumer in charge of who sees what, when it comes to their records.

"A lot of what I want to do with my vault is share with a care provider or interact with a care provider," Neupert said. "I don't think it's appropriate to try to get in between that relationship. I want to enable it."

Six years ago Microsoft launched an ill-fated effort, code-named Hailstorm, to manage consumers' information online. Concerns over data security and privacy, coupled with difficulty in striking partnership deals, eventually sank that project.

Similar concerns may apply to the company's health information efforts. Because the new service is free to consumers and partners, such as health care providers and medical-device makers, it's unclear how Microsoft will procure revenue from HealthVault.

Neupert said the company's business model centers on advertising, particularly search-related advertising.

"When I am doing a health search I typically have a need," Neupert said. "The ad is a valuable piece of content.

Microsoft's consumer effort in health care parallels a push the company is making on the clinical side of things, following its July 2006 purchase of Azyxxi.

Microsoft is not expecting consumers to just rush out and sign up for HealthVault en masse. "I don't expect a million users to sign up in the next six months," Neupert said.

Even signing up partners is likely to be a long battle. The initial supporters are organizations like the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Diabetes Association--not the kind of insurance companies and hospital chains that Microsoft needs to make HealthVault match its vision.

See more CNET content tagged:
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trust an illegal monopoly?
why would anyone have trouble with that?

it is not like they can access our computers without our knowledge to do a little updating...

I'm sure lots of other marketing companies would love to "hold on" to personal medical data. However, I don't imagine Microsoft abusing their customers rights to privacy...
Posted by ColdMast (186 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft =/= security
Hahaha, trusting Microsoft to any information is laughable.

With their environment, you would be hacked and lose data within
Posted by MaLvaDo39 (365 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Late to the game...again.
Following their usual MO, Microsoft is coming to the game late with
no new ideas. They've done this before with Windows, IE and other
Internet apps, Zune, etc. They bring no new ideas and no track
record that should make us believe that they can somehow make
things better. Meantime, the healthcare industry has been working
for years to improve and standardize the health record. There's a
lot more to it than simply coming in and claiming you are going to
show everyone how to organize data. There's an answer out there,
but it's not going to be provided by Microsoft.
Posted by i,Jimbot (65 comments )
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Who'd Be Dumb Enough To Use This
Given Microsoft's track record on security, who besides Paris Hilton would be dumb enough to use this service?
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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I work in healthcare, and...
Supporting IT systems for a living, 90% of my clients are health care providers. Within this group Microsoft is trusted less than the government in regards to health care issues.
Posted by Microsoft_Facts (109 comments )
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they deserve a chance
I'm not surprised you work in healthcare IT. One of the hurdles that Microsoft will have to deal with is a barrage of FUD from competitors who are seeing their livelihoods threatened.

Healthcare IT is much more expensive and less developed than it should be, simply because everyone assumes that since it's healthcare, everything needs to be in a class of its own in terms of security, privacy, etc. This view of thinking satisfies both doctor's egos and the bank accounts of IT providers.

An effect of the unrealistic requirements and FUD is that computerization is way behind other industries, causing an unknown number of people to suffer or die. We all know someone who has suffered unnecessarily because healthcare providers can't (or won't) share information.

That said, MS certainly has a lot to prove. But they deserve a chance.
Posted by karlengblom (22 comments )
Link Flag
Keeping info out of this database
If MS truly cared about anyone's privacy, they would offer a way to 'opt out' preventing any of my personal info from ever being stored on an insecure Microsoft platform.
Posted by Microsoft_Facts (109 comments )
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Give me an example
Can you actually provide an example where Microsoft has abused personal data. And an example where trusted personal data has been released?
Posted by ChrisatCNET (7 comments )
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I would love to see Microsoft put its muscle behind an opt-in, HIPAA compliant, patient managed medical records system. A good personal medical records system could help a lot of people.
Posted by bknight22 (1 comment )
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