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Microsoft Beats Google To Consumer Health Market

The health care market has proved a deeply complicated system with entrenched inefficiencies, challenging innovations.

HealthVault

Microsoft's HealthVault plan is to provide the infrastructure and rely on its ecosystem of ISVs and solutions providers to build out the site's functionality. Around 40 software developers and health-care companies are currently participating in HealthVault, which is tagged as a beta service.

HealthVault allows users to track and store an assortment of medical data, including lab results and electronic records, medication histories, exercise and nutrition records and goals, and data from devices such as blood pressure and heart rate monitors. Eventually, the site's goal is to help consumers manage storage of and permission-based outside access to a comprehensive electronic record of their own medical history.

Microsoft is hardly the first company to eye the health care space as a fertile field in dire need of better electronic information systems. Google is also reportedly working on a "Google Health" offering, and America Online founder Steve Case launched Revolution Health two years ago with the goal of giving consumers better tools for managing their health data.

But the health care market has proved a deeply complicated system with entrenched inefficiencies, frustrating many vendors' technology-based reform efforts. Microsoft's HealthVault partners say they hope the company's broad consumer reach will help it penetrate a field that has buried its earlier pioneers.

"Microsoft can clearly invest in security, storage, privacy, disaster recovery -- all those things," said Bobbie Byrne, general manager of clinical solutions for Eclipsys, an Atlanta, Ga., health care software and services firm. "I think the key is a trusted entity. Who will consumers trust to store this?"

Whether consumers will trust Microsoft to manage sensitive health information is an open question. Microsoft takes pains in HealthVault's terms of service to specify that it will not use any information stored at the site for commercial purposes or release it to any outside parties without explicit permission. However, customer concerns about giving Microsoft access to a treasure trove of personal data killed off Microsoft's Hailstorm project five years ago, which aimed to aggregate users' financial and other personal details in one Microsoft-owned repository.

HealthVault launches with several dozen participating partners, but it will need many more to achieve critical mass.

Five device manufacturers, including diabetes management equipment manufacturer LifeScan (a unit of JohnsonJohnson), have created integration links to the portal so far, as have a handful of electronic health record (EHR) vendors. But because the EHR field is so fragmented, no vendor has a significant customer base to bring to initiatives such as HealthVault. Early HealthVault participant Eclipsys is its integrating its Sunrise Patient Portal with HealthVault, but the relatively new Sunrise portal does not yet have any health care providers using it live. (Several pilot projects at hospitals are under way, according to Eclipsys executives.)

Messaging technology maker Kryptiq, another early HealthVault supporter, does bring live customers to the project: it has 1,100 clinics across the U.S. and Canada up and running on its Connect IQ medical-communication portal. Connect IQ is now integrated with HealthVault, which means that patients at any Connect IQ-linked clinic can, with a few clicks, enable the two systems to share data.

Kryptiq CEO Luis Machuca hopes Microsoft's market heft will help HealthVault scale. "A lot of people talk about putting the consumer at the center. Microsoft has the market power to do that," he said. "This makes the technology not only available to consumers, but very easy."

Signaling its hopes that HealthVault will become part of the ongoing conversation between government and industry organizations about health-care IT modernization, Microsoft debuted HealthVault at an event in Washington, D.C. The site is free to consumers. A software development kit for partners is available on Microsoft's MSDN Web site.

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