Microsoft: trust us with your health records (and DDR in the 1790's)

Doctor it hurts when I write Friday's IT Blogwatch: in which Microsoft launches HealthVault (beta). Not to mention a hysterical twist on Dance Dance Revolution...

Grant Gross gives

Microsoft Corp. has launched an online health care service designed to help patients take control of their health records and monitor their medical conditions. Microsoft's HealthVault, announced today in Washington, will allow users to store and share health records online, to collect and manage health data on a variety of home devices, and to search for health information.
The HealthVault applications, available for free on the HealthVault Web site, are designed to allow patients to share their information safely and easily with health care providers and manage their health issues, such as weight loss and long-term diseases, Microsoft said. The three features of HealthVault include:
  • HealthVault Search, a specialized search engine designed to give the most relevant online health content and connect results with HealthVault-compatible products.
  • The HealthVault repository account, an encrypted online e-health record that users and their families can share with doctors.
  • The HealthVault Connection Center, a place where users can find plug-and-play drivers for health-monitoring devices, such as diabetes meters and heart-rate monitors, to connect to the HealthVault accounts.
The HealthVault was developed in cooperation with privacy advocates, including the bipartisan Coalition for Patient Privacy. [more]

Todd Bishop adds:

[It] includes a free online service that the company envisions consumers using to store and selectively share their health-care records with medical providers. The company says it wants to start eliminating the inefficiencies and complexities in current systems of medical record-keeping.
Even so ... it's not clear whether consumers will feel comfortable keeping their personal medical information and files in Microsoft's online service. HealthVault uses the Windows Live ID log-in system, the successor to Passport. That, combined with the data-repository aspect, may remind some people of the company's ill-fated Hailstorm system. But Microsoft says it's not trying to use HealthVault to lock people into its technology.
Microsoft says the HealthVault service will be free to users, physicians, software developers and health plans. So what's in it for the company, financially? For that, Microsoft is looking to the search-related portion of the initiative. [more]

Erick Schonfeld has more:

With HealthVault, you can import your health records from your doctors, hospitals, labs, prescription drug plans, and other healthcare providers. You can also type them in yourself, or upload data from personal health monitoring devices such as glucose or blood-pressure monitors. The site also incorporates a health-specific search engine ... Microsoft plans to make money through health-related search ads, but says it won’t target those ads to any personal data in someone’s stored medical record.
Getting people to embrace digital personal health records is a Holy Grail for both the healthcare and technology industries. By making health records accessible on the Web to both patients and their doctors, better tracking of medical conditions and quicker responses to changes in those conditions could yield vast improvements in healthcare outcomes. Dangerous symptoms could be spotted earlier by doctors, while at the same time patients would have the information necessary to better take care of themselves. A shift to widespread use of online personal health records is the first step needed to change the focus of the healthcare system from one of constantly treating full-blown ailments to preventing them in the first place. [more]

Yes, but, "Will Anyone Bite?" asks Josh Catone:

I have no doubt that eventually health records will be stored online. Easier access and sharing of health information between doctors and hospitals is something that can lead to better and quicker diagnoses, less headaches when changing doctors or moving to a new town, and less chance of a serious condition being missed by a doctor ... But there are major hurdles toward gaining public trust and acceptance, not least of which is security concerns ... I personally would be very hesitant to store medical records online. Having once been almost burned by my health insurance company because they had access to health records, I am very protective of my medical records.
On the search side, the new HealthVault health search vertical is rather impressive. Searches on the site combine relational refinements (i.e., search for "wheat" and the site will recommend that you search for "celiac disease" as well), article content from sources like Wikipedia and the Mayo Clinic, and web results in an attractively laid out search results page. The site also serves up sponsored results and book recommendations from Amazon. [more]

IBM's Todd Watson waxes metaphorical:

Though Microsoft puts it's "Health Privacy Commitment" front and center on the HealthVault home page ... [I'm] a little queasy in terms of protecting the privacy of my health records. Then again, if Microsoft's health records are as well protected as the permissions that are apparently required for loading new software via the Vista operating system, we can all probably breathe a little easier. But you may want to go ahead and call the privacy ambulance, just in case.

What's next, a very public and comprehensive Facebook medical records application and Newsfeed that will allow my closest friends and relatives to follow and compare our latest blood tests? [more]

Lauren Weinstein raises his concerns:

What's not obvious from the sales pitches are the downsides, and they could be serious indeed ... You can almost hear the conversations at Microsoft where they tried to come up with a name that gave the impression of security, Fort Knox, and impenetrability. And of course, Microsoft is making all the usual claims about encryption, safety, and the same promises we always hear about centralized data systems.
[But] the most serious problem is that once medical data is in a centralized environment, there are essentially no limits to who can come along with a court order (or in the case of the government, as we know, secret orders or illegal demands that can't usually be resisted) for access to that data. Service providers typically have no choice but to comply ... broad "fishing expeditions" by the government -- for research, investigative, and other purposes -- become far easier when medical records are centralized. It's very difficult to abusively search or gather such data in a broad manner when it consists mainly of manila folders in cabinets at your doctors' offices.
Most people signing up won't have a clue about the negative ramifications of these services -- certainly the services themselves won't be trumpeting such shortcomings and risks. [more]

Andy Angelos talks about the competition:

The release of HealthVault coincides with struggles in the healthcare divisions of other large technology players. Healthcare executives involved in both Google and Cisco programs recently departed, while Intel’s Dossia coalition is progressing much slower than Microsoft’s initiative. [more]

Bored yet? Donna Bogatin's always good for a juicy quote:

On the heels of Google losing its touchy-feely, NBC ER drama worthy Google Health evangelist–Adam Bosworth–Microsoft picks up the tried and true “moms and babies” and “dying grandma” pulling of the heart strings slack in launching its attack on the multi trillion dollar medical services business. [more]

Em Adespoton worries:

This sounds like a horrible idea to me ... Medical professionals never like patients to have full access to their records, as if a patient misunderstands something on their file, their life could be at stake based on the decisions they make. [more]

And David P. Hamilton raises a curious conundrum:

Ultimately, of course, the vision is for individuals to control every detail of their medical history at their fingertips so they can share it with any doctor or health organization they choose. Setting aside the enormous question of what it takes to get there from here, the big issue this vision raises is whether giving individuals “control” over their records — which is really shorthand for the ability to add, delete or change information — might undermine their usefulness in a significant way.

In other words, there’s a downside to the electronic medical-records issue that, so far, virtually no one outside a small coterie of academics has even really begun to address ... patients shouldn’t have the ability to cherry-pick and edit their own records if the resulting information is to be at all useful to doctors.
Worth pondering as the likes of Microsoft, Google and their ilk start us hurtling down the path to patient-centered medical records. [more]

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Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... The Coast of Yemen offers his hysterical take on DDR [well, your humble blogwatcher found it funny, anyway]

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

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