Marks Daily Apple
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10 Oct

Microsoft HealthVault: Empowering People to Lead Healthy Lives?

If you’ve read Mark’s Deconstructing Healthcare in America: A Modest Proposal or one of our other healthcare rants you know Mark’s Daily Apple has a lot to say about America’s ailing and defunct healthcare system. Huge improvements are needed, so we are thrilled to see anything that nominally resembles a step in the right direction.

Last week Microsoft launched the beta version of their new health records portal, HealthVault. Could HealthVault be the long awaited 21st century introduction to electronic health records that the medical establishment has been in dire need of for years? It is too early to tell, but it does look intriguing.

Principally HealthVault is a place to upload, store and share your medical records. In an attempt to streamline and modernize the way vital health information is handled it allows users to keep all of their family’s medical, immunization, and hospital visit records in a single place. These records can then be shared with friends, family, trainers and doctors. It also provides a search feature for health related information on the internet.

This sort of system could change the way the entire healthcare system operates. Easy access to personal health records could lead to better and more timely treatment. Additionally, it could provide healthcare professionals with a vast source of data from which to draw relevant medical information.

But let’s not get carried away. Opponents cite online security and privacy as a huge issue to contend with. Also, 80-85% of all doctor’s offices don’t keep any electronic records, so there will need to be some dramatic changes to the status quo. As this article notes, an electronic network that links patron’s records has been used by banks and retailers for over a decade. One has to wonder why the medical establishment hasn’t already implemented similar technology. Especially when considering studies that suggest it could save $500 billion over the next 15 years in medical costs. Your standard compatibility issues, logistical hurdles and steep cost arguments are readily evoked.

According to PPI, President Bush’s proposal to lay the groundwork for an electronic health records network has put too much of the responsibility on hospitals and doctors. One hundred percent implementation would cost upwards of $115 billion. It turns out that what is seemingly an over-sized burden on our healthcare infrastructure is an investment opportunity for third party technology giants flush with cash.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech behemoth jockeying for position in the medical records field. WebMD, Google and AOL co-founder Steve Case’s Revolution Health all have similar plans.

So what makes Microsoft qualified to provide this service and handle all of your private medical records? Well, this plan has been in the works since 2000. They’ve consulted and partnered with Mayo Clinic, Johnson & Johnson, American Heart Association and other big names. And they have spent years building encryption and security features into the application to ensure the data is safe and protected.

Time will tell if Microsoft’s HealthVault or one of the competing platforms will revolutionize the way medical records are stored and transferred. Although we’d like to be optimistic we aren’t holding our collective breath.

What do you think? Should medical records be left in the hands of trained professionals, or do we have a right to store and share our own health information? Is this technology something you could embrace?

Further Reading:

Microsoft: There’s no system so messed up that we can’t make it worse

Microsoft’s HealthVault is scary stuff according to this concerned citizen

Microsoft Faces Concerns over Privacy

More Privacy Worries

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  1. It is a long, arduous and expensive task, but converting paper health records to electronic health records is very possible and I am a big proponent. Kaiser-Permanente Northern California has recently made the jump to electronic records. In fact, I think that most Kaiser’s across the country are now electronic. As a result, your personal record can be accessed by other Kaiser health care providers even if your personal physician is 1,000 miles away.

    We already have the right to have copies of our health record to use as we see fit. However, the original records should always be left in the hands of the trained professionals. Much of a medical record is too complex for the lay-person to fully understand and a small bit of knowledge can be very dangerous when the information gets into the wrong hands.

    All in all though, electronic health care systems are happening and it is an excellent way to improve health care. Having said that, health care will continue to be extremely expensive no matter how efficient the delivery system is if chronic conditions continue to escalate in this country. That is, the delivery system(s) as a whole may be sick, but we as a nation are really, really sick.

    primalman08 wrote on October 10th, 2007
  2. I think the e-records are a great idea but there will be some major hurdles as you note. The first of these will be a multiple formats. This will either have to be made to work together or combined into one format properly without the loss or misplacement of info the wrong fields where it could be missed and be life or death. The next big issue will be security. I write code for a retailer for a living and can tell you with certainly that encryption is nowhere near foolproof. Providing that criminals (if they had an incentive) didn’t get a hold of the unencrypted data, actually unencrypting it is not really a problem.

    Not really sure that there is much of an incentive for criminals who would be able to do that to do it though.

    Also, I would think that doctors would need to write more legibly so that less translation mistakes are made.


    Joe Matasic wrote on October 11th, 2007
  3. No way! Way too Big Brother for me. Can you picture the Presidential candidate whose records were hacked into…and it turns out he was treated for herpes when he was in college?
    I’m all for individual offices having electronic records…and giving them (on a disc or flash drive perhaps??) to patients who request them…but way would I want a “Health Vault.” And I don’t even have anything to hide..anything embarrassing in my records…THEY’RE JUST PRIVATE!

    Marie wrote on October 11th, 2007
  4. So how do the banks do it? And how did they set it up?

    It really irks me to hear people start yacking about compatibility issues and security issues without doing some homework (mostly aimed at journalists and people who want to oppose an idea without trying to sound intelligent about it). I called it old dog syndrome when we were building the new computer system at my job. “They don’t want to think about it because they’ll have to learn new tricks.” :p

    I’m sure financial information can be hijacked electronically, but it doesn’t seem to happen as often as it could. Something must be going right.

    We have the same legal tender and we the same anatomical features. The paperwork can’t be THAT different. And if it, maybe it’s time to let some efficiency people streamline stuff.

    klcthebookworm wrote on October 11th, 2007
  5. I’m all for systems like this. I’ve switched health care providers a few times due to the insurance options offered by new jobs and it’s almost impossible to get health records transferred. A central system would be great and I think Microsoft probably knows more about security than the hospital systems do.


    60 in 3 wrote on October 11th, 2007
  6. Mark was suizzing yr site and saw something about your type A-ness.
    You might like this..nowt new but elegantly worded nonetheless.

    The individual,then,has power,and yet the nature of that power reflects a kind of irreducible existential predicament. If every individual act may ultimately have great consequences,those consequences are almost entirely unforseeable …

    simon fellows wrote on October 11th, 2007
  7. Apparently neither Google nor Microsoft has noticed (or perhaps they prefer not to acknowledge) that the technical problem has been comprehensively solved already, by the Veterans Affairs medical system. The remaining problems are not technical but political.

    We can talk about ‘shoulds’ and ‘translucency’ all we like, in the end the insurance business will find a way to use such a database punitively.

    The real question is how to arrive at a health-care system that doesn’t punish the sick. No amount of technology will answer that question.

    Also, have you ever tried to extract your own healthcare records from a doctor or hospital ? They don’t let go easily.

    The extended version of my grumblings is at

    Doug Kretzmann wrote on October 17th, 2007

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