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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