RealTime IT News

Eyeing the Personal Health Portal

Online shopping: awesome. Online banking: terrific. Search: incredibly useful -- even the ads.

Everything seems to go better on the Internet, where information is quickly updated, accessible from any computer 24 hours a day. The next wave of Internet enabling is coming to your family doctor and your local hospital.

Instead of playing phone tag with your doctor for days -- or not getting a callback at all -- you'll be able to simply log on and read your test results.

But to make this happen, the nation's health care system must stop shuffling papers and undergo a transformation similar to the e-business boom of the late 1990s.

E-business applications opened up new possibilities for companies, as it made their operations more efficient and provided new insight into their processes. At the same time, the era of e-business enriched hardware and software vendors, as well as professional services firms, as companies bought massive amounts of servers and pricey "solutions."

That's one reason that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have made big moves into health care.

In October 2007, Microsoft announced HealthVault. Still in beta, the service features health information from professional sources, with special optimized search.

Rather than providing a standardized personal health record, Microsoft has taken the platform approach, enabling people to create customized profiles or records. It's working with the Mayo Clinic to build tools to let people manage their own health.

Users can store information from medical devices such as blood pressure monitors or blood glucose readers. The plan is to eventually let consumers collect, store and share health information with hospitals and physicians while maintaining the privacy and security of their data. In addition, partners will be able to build applications on the HealthVault platform.

Google Health launched in February, announcing a partnership with Cleveland Clinic, an academic medical center that treats approximately 3 million patients from around the world each year.

A pilot program will test secure exchange of patient medical data such as prescriptions, conditions and allergies between the Cleveland Clinic's electronic personal health record system and a secure Google profile in a live delivery setting.

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to give patients the ability to interact with multiple physicians, health care providers and pharmacies in a network that spans the United States.

[cob:Special_Report]Google did not provide comment on the initiative at press time.

The benefits of having a central repository in which consumers can store their personal health records, or PHRs, are compelling. "The patient is forced to be the vehicle for information exchange," said C. Martin Harris, M.D., CIO of the Cleveland Clinic and leader of the hospital's work with Google.

But even patients who have copies of their medical records may forget to bring them to the new doctor. If they're admitted to the emergency room and unable to communicate, their health status is a mystery and doctors have to start from scratch.

Harris says a nationwide, 24/7 portal for PHRs accessible by providers only with a consumer's consent would reduce errors, improve health and save money.