While much its content can be found elsewhere, the combination of information, tools, and technological enhancements make Microsoft's launch of its free online consumer healthcare management platform, HealthVault, last Thursday one to watch.
Almost all of the 40 device plug-in and software applications the company is starting with are available individually and independently from its vendor partners. Yet through the combination, HealthVault offers convenience, the possibility of application customization, the ability to import and store personal data, and a search capability that may not be available anywhere else.
The key to HealthVault's initial appeal is its all-in-one-place access to a range of applications plus the ability for some of those applications to "play together" in a way has not previously been possible. For example, a user can download his or her heart rate from a monitor and then send those statistics to a personal trainer who can immediately adjust the user's exercise workout. "Customization is all online and completely integrated within both platforms," states Teri Sundh, CEO & co-founder of Podfitness, Inc., one of HealthVault's initial partners.
Microsoft believes that its search engine will give the product an edge over existing solutions. Sean Nolan, chief software architect of the Microsoft Health Solutions Group, says HealthVault uses the technology from a company called MedStory, which Microsoft purchased earlier this year, to mine the very detailed minutia in peer-reviewed medical journals, simplify the material, and then present the user with much more relevant, narrow search results based on very specific medications and medical procedures.
As a health data repository, another thing that sets HealthVault apart from existing records storage software solutions is its security. Deborah Peel, M.D., the founder of the Patient Private Rights Foundation, called the Microsoft security for HealthVault "Fort Knox state of the art." She added, "This is the first example of a technology product actually guaranteeing patients will be able to protect their information."
While much of its content and even its tools are available elsewhere, the company believes that HealthVault will be greater than the sum of its parts. The American Heart Association, for example, developed its Blood Pressure Management Center after being solicited by Microsoft. The center is also available through the AHA web site, but Dan Jones, M.D., president of the AHA, says he believes HealthVault gives him a better chance to reach the 20% of Americans with high blood pressure who do not have it controlled.
"It's not unlike the popularity of building applications at Facebook based on the personal information stored there, but with MSFT HealthVault, it's for a much higher purpose, improving the health of our loved ones," explains Enoch Choi, M.D., a Palo Alto urgent care doctor, and product manager at MedHelp.org, a HealthVault partner.
Already there have been announcements of applications to come. Healthphone Solutions will launch a tool in early 2008 that will allow users to send "stop smoking" messages to their cell phones throughout the day.
If the HealthVault's offering is really an evolutionary advance, as suggested by Peter Neupert, corporate vice president of the Health Solutions Group at Microsoft, this may be driven by its data repository, which provides a number of personal health management software packages a user can download. The user can then give access to that data to his personal physician, or an emergency room doctor, or anyone else. HealthVault’s shortcoming in this regard, as is the case with the other software packages, is that one cannot electronically import into the data repository information from one's physician, or from, for example, the hospital discharge summary that one might receive after having an operation.
With the launch of HealthVault, Microsoft has what it calls a simple focus "to empower people to lead healthy lives." While this objective is far from an easy one--as are the privacy issues projects like these must contend with--the launch of HealthVault does provide a way for people to collect their health information in a digital repository, along with a platform on which companies across the health industry can develop compatible tools and services to enhance our search for good health.