Microsoft announced today the beta of its awaited patient medical/health records system, HealthVault. It enters a corner of the medical industry that has been about as resistant to technology as possible with a plan to break through that barrier and make money at the same time.
First, for those of us whose initial thought here is that, as patients, we might be willing to continue to suffer through filling out those incessant clipboarded forms at the doctor's office rather than turn our health records over to Microsoft to secure: Consumer advocacy group Patient Privacy Rights Founder Dr. Deborah C. Peel says in this BusinessWeek piece that she has confidence in the safety of Microsoft's servers and that the company knows there's no room for error.
Other partner health organizations have expressed similar conclusions.
Truthfully, it's unlikely that Microsoft will have a very difficult time convincing patients to use the system, especially if their health providers are on board and encouraging patients to sign in (the Windows Live signon is free). And Microsoft is making it as easy as possible for those providers to finally make the jump from largely paper-based record keeping by partnering with medical record software programs like Allscripts, and even allowing providers to fax information in.
Most information, at least initially, will be entered directly by patients themselves, and will be accessible only to those patients, unless they allow providers to see it -- an especially attractive feature for patients with conditions that require daily (or more frequent) monitoring, record-keeping and analysis, such as diabetes, or those taking medications prescribed by multiple physicians.
Where governments have failed, and competitors (including Google) lag, Microsoft says it has created the winning formula with HealthVault, which includes a medical information search engine from acquisition MedStory (queries can be saved in users' HealthVault accounts along with their personal medical records) and sponsored advertising.
First reactions around the Web, as at the World Health Care Blog, have been mostly positive, with basically only the question of whether consumers will let their distrust of Microsoft's security record keep them away from the tool. The promise of improved preventive care, easier and more accurate record-keeping for patients and doctors and, I would point out, a patient-controlled repository that is not hosted by a provider or retailer within the medical industry, seems to have overshadowed the doubts. Now, we'll hear from consumers about what works and what doesn't.