Microsoft: We're good for your health

Summary:Microsoft has been signaling its intentions to enter the health-records-management space for more than a year. On October 4, the company finally provided an official gameplan of what it's readying on the healthcare software and services front.

Microsoft has been signaling its intentions to enter the health-records-management space for more than a year. On October 4, the company finally provided an official gameplan of what it's readying on the healthcare software and services front.

Microsoft: We’re good for your health
On October 4, Microsoft launched an open beta of HealthVault, a client application plus a Live service that will allow consumers to build and maintain a personal health record. One of the inputs into this health record will be results from Microsoft's health search-engine, also known as HealthVault, which is based on the MedStory search technology Microsoft bought a year ago.

This is how HealthVault will work: Users will create a secure password which they will be able to share and will have the option of sharing data in their records with doctors or others at their own discretion. This password will enable access to their health information, which will be housed in a cloud-based storage site (HealthVault Account) that is hosted by Microsoft. Users will be able to store results of health-related search queries (via HealthVault Search), electronic forms and records from doctors and other medical professionals; data they collect themselves from medical devices (like blood pressure cuffs, heart-rate monitors, etc.), which is maintained on the Healthvault Connection portal; prescription data; and other relevant information.

Peter Neupert, vice president of the Microsoft Health Solutions Group, described HealthVault as "an extension of our (health) search product." "It's a platform -- a shared data repository for users to collect, store and access their health information."

Neupert acknowledged that governments have been taking stabs at building regional health-provider networks to simplify medical-records sharing, but those projects have been "slow to market and complicated." He also admitted that there are a number of Microsoft competitors, some healthcare specialists and some other tech vendors (like Google and Steve Case's Revolution Health) that are working on ways to allow users to create personal healthcare records.

"That (healthcare-record) data is more useful if I can share it," Neupert said. "You need to start in the cloud and start with an API (application-programming interface).

Neupert and others at Microsoft know that connectivity is only one hurdle players in this market face. Privacy concerns are even more of an issue, especially for Microsoft, which isn't a company many users have come to equate with "trust." Microsoft will use Windows Live ID as the secure-authentication mechanism. And the servers and networks used to store HealthVault records will be separate from the other infrastructure housed in Microsoft's datacenters, Neupert emphasized. Logs of users' health-related searches will be erased after 90 days.

How much will it cost users to store their health data in Microsoft's cloud? It will be free, Neupert said.

"I believe search is a big market and we can monetize this around health searches with online ads," he explained.

"We want to make sure it's clear this is a copy of the (user's) data and that they are the ones who decide at different levels who they can share with," he said. "Currently, we are not targeting Web results or the ads based on data in a user's HealthVault record. We may do that some time, but we are not doing it now."

Microsoft announced a bunch of medical-device and records partners at the Washington, D.C., launch of HealthVault on October 4. It also unveiled a HealthVault software development kit for companies and individuals who want to build apps and services that can plug into the HealthVault ecosystem.

Questions: Do you trust Microsoft and its infrastructure enough to store your personal medical info on the company's servers? (Would you trust Google or another vendor any more?) If not, what would change your mind enough to give HealthVault a try?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Tech & Work


Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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