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Plans for Microsoft's HealthVault, a Personal Health Record

Last year, Microsoft launched HealthVault, a free online personal health record (PHR), to much fanfare. (Google Health, a major competitor, has yet to be released.)

PHRs have the potential, at least in theory, to significantly improve communication between doctors, hospitals, and patients. The ideas is that patients and participating health providers can enter data into an online database. All the information in this database -- including allergies, medical conditions, medications, and laboratory results -- would be available to any provider who needed it. No more fumbling with handwritten lists of medications or calls to doctors offices to obtain a patients medical history. Ideally, all this information should be easily and securely available to any healthcare provider, anytime. (For an example of how this might work in the case of a patient presenting with a heart attack, see this article from the American Academy of Family Physicians.)

So far Microsoft has partnered with organizations including the American Health Association, Johnson & Johnson, LifeScan, the Mayo Clinic, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Microsoft is also working with medical device manufacturers allow information from devices to be uploaded directly to HealthVault. A diabetic, for example, could automatically have their glucose levels sent to their PHR, which would then be reviewed by their physician. (Currently, patients often bring handwritten blood pressure and glucose readings to the office -- automating the process would be a welcome advance.)

But truthfully, I know of few patients and doctors who use PHRs. The technology is too new, too few doctors and patients have heard of it, and the benefits of the technology are not worth the investment of time and money for many physician's practices, health systems, and patients.

All this may change and PHRs may be more widely adopted, especially if new services are offered. Dr. Bill Crounse, Microsoft's Health Director, spoke last year at a conference about "what consumer's want":
  • On-line appointment scheduling
  • Web messaging with physician and support staff
  • Access to lab and radiology reports
  • On-line prescription refills
  • Reminders and "information therapy"
  • Access to personal medical records
  • Outcomes and disease management tools
Microsoft will likely be discussing these new offerings at the 2008 Health & Life Sciences Developer and Solutions Conference. In particular, I'm interested in whether they will launch a free, easy to use, HIPAA-compliant patient-physician email system. To me, this is the killer app for any PHR. Google Health, according to rumor, will also be released this year. It looks like 2008 may finally be the year that PHRs go mainstream.

(Also posted on The Efficient MD.)
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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.