New Microsoft software tools let users build health profile
Microsoft executives have long talked about their plans to push technology further into the health-care field, both at the lab bench and...
Seattle Times technology reporter
Microsoft executives have long talked about their plans to push technology further into the health-care field, both at the lab bench and the bedside.
The company made some first steps with a couple of recent acquisitions and, on Thursday, it launched a new "software-plus-services" combination designed to help people compile personal health data and share it with doctors.
HealthVault, as the company is branding this effort, allows users to create an account online that will store data such as medical history, health-plan information, prescriptions, images, cholesterol and blood-pressure readings. The data can be entered by the patient or by a medical provider authorized by the patient.
Still in testing, the service is free. Security and identity are verified using Windows Live ID, the same sign-on protocol used for accessing the company's Web-based e-mail and instant-messaging services.
Underlying the end-user application is a platform to connect various sources and outlets for medical data. The company is releasing a software-developer kit for medical-device makers and others who want to build applications based on HealthVault.
One example is a text-messaging service designed to send reminders to people trying to quit smoking. Seattle-based Healthphone Solutions is building the service on top of the HealthVault platform.
Another element is a new HealthVault Search service, based on Medstory, which Microsoft acquired in February.
Health is one of the four areas Microsoft is emphasizing with its refreshed Live Search service. The HealthVault Search returns results from authoritative sources, which can be stored in a HealthVault account. Search is one way Microsoft plans to generate revenue from the overall HealthVault effort.
One question that arises from this effort is whether people will be comfortable sharing their most personal information with a big tech company, be it Microsoft or Google, which also has designs on this business.
To reassure users, Microsoft offers these promises:
• The Microsoft HealthVault record you create is controlled by you.
• You decide what information goes into your HealthVault record.
• You decide who can see and use your information on a case-by-case basis.
• We do not use your health information for commercial purposes unless we ask and you say clearly that we may.
HealthVault faces a major obstacle in that 80 percent to 85 percent of doctors in private practice don't keep electronic records, and hospitals aren't much better, according to Lynne Dunbrack, program director of market-research group Health Industry Insights. And where electronic records do exist, there's no guarantee that any two health-care providers will call the same treatment or lab work by the same name.
When it comes to business technology, health care is "where other industries were in the 1980s," Dunbrack said.
And some of the best sources of comprehensive health-records data — major insurance providers, many of which already offer personal health-records tools — haven't agreed to build applications that work with HealthVault.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report. Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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