RealTime IT News

Microsoft Broadens HealthVault's Appeal

Microsoft Monday announced a pilot project with the nation's largest not-for-profit health care plan – Kaiser Permanente (KP) – to enable data transfers between consumers' medical records and Microsoft's HealthVault online health site.

To start, the pilot will only include volunteers from among KP's 156,000 employees, although if successful the offer will be extended to the plan's 8.6 million members according to a KP spokesperson.

Both companies seek that holy grail of consumers' medical records – providing consumers with access to and control over what's called their "personal health records" or PHRs – which can contain pretty much any and all personal health information on a patient. In this case, the idea is to share information between Microsoft's HealthVault and KP's own consumer PHR system, known as My Health Manager.

So, what is the benefit of linking the two health records sites, given that KP already has an online medical records site for its own members? After all, it has already signed up some 2 million of them for My Health Manager.

"Today, we don’t have an easy way for members to have one place to store any of the data they may get from devices such as blood pressure monitoring machines or glucose [meters] … [as well as] information from different equipment that they may have in their home," Anna-Lisa Silvestre, vice president of Online Services at Kaiser Permanente, said on a conference call with the media Monday.

"In the beginning, it's going to be a subset. It'll be a health summary, and that includes immunizations, allergies, conditions and demographics … and medications," she said.

Another important goal of the pilot is to assure consistent, reliable and secure data exchange between the two systems, Silvestre added.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) launched its attempt at consolidating consumers' PHRs and their access to them – named HealthVault – last October. It remains in public beta test, according to a company spokesperson.

Healthy competition

Of course, Microsoft didn't come up with the idea of creating a health care "platform" in a vacuum. Competitors are beginning to multiply, primarily Microsoft's most recent nemesis.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) launched its own version of a consumer PHR offering – dubbed Google Health – in February. It rolled out in May.

How well either or both companies execute on the concept, of course, is what will define its success or failure – at least this time around. Even if the concept doesn't catch on immediately, however, as the baby boomers age, that consolidation of their PHRs is likely to occur – especially with two heavy hitters like Google and Microsoft working on the problem.

The KP announcement came on the first day of Microsoft’s HealthVault Solutions Conference in Bellevue, Wash. Microsoft also announced that health care technology providers will show off some 40 applications and devices designed to take advantage of the HealthVault platform.

On the list of vendors demoing their wares at the conference will be ActiveHealth Management, CapMed, Healthy Circles, Medikeeper, NoMoreClipboard.com and WorldDoc. Others include A&D Medical, Home Diagnostics, HoMedics, LifeScan, Microlife, Nonin Medical, OMRON, Polar and Tanita.

"What we're looking with regard to the HealthVault platform is to create an ecosystem which is tens if not hundreds of applications that share and re-use data," Peter Neupert, Microsoft corporate vice president of the Health Solutions Group, said on a conference call.

For instance, Microsoft said HealthVault users can monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, peak flow, oxygen saturation of blood, weight, and other biometrics and share that data with the applications.