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10/4/2007
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Microsoft Unveils Free Web Health Tools For Consumers

HealthVault includes private health-related Web search tools and personal health-record tools that consumers control.

Microsoft, which has been building up its health-care software and services offering over the last two years, hammered a big stake in the ground on Thursday with new free, Web-based personal health-record tools for consumers.

Microsoft executives have high hopes for the HealthVault offering, which include private health-related Web search tools and personal health-record tools that consumers control in terms of the data that's entered and shared with others.

Microsoft has a "long history exciting new platforms, starting with end users," that have transformed industries, said Peter Neupert, corporate VP for Microsoft's health solutions during the HealthVault unveiling in D.C. With this consumer-centric approach, "we can start to transform the health-care system," which is still lagging most industries in the use of IT to replace costly, paper-based processes.

But, because so many U.S. health-care providers -- especially doctor offices -- are still lagging in their own adoption of digitized patient record systems, a lot of the HealthVault PHR data will need to be manually entered by consumers at first, or faxed as images into the system by clinicians with permission of the patient, said Sean Nolan, chief architect of Microsoft Healthcare Group.

However, a key part of Microsoft's HealthVault strategy is getting third parties to develop applications on the HealthVault platform, as well as building connections directly with providers of health care, including hospitals, labs, and pharmacies, that would electronically provide data for HealthVault consumers.

Among the health-care providers working with Microsoft are New York Presbyterian Hospital and Medstar Health, which operate several Washington, D.C.-based hospitals.

In the case of Medstar, consumers have an option of having Medstar e-mail a link to the patient that provides electronic access to discharge records that can then by incorporated into the patient's Healthvault record, said Nolan.

Also, if HealthVault catches on with consumers, Microsoft hopes more doctors will be encouraged to digitize their own patient records. Consumers who use HealthVault authorize who can their data, including specifying what information is shared on a case-by-case basis.

Among the other partners Microsoft has already signed up for HealthVault are several health-care device makers, including vendors of glucose and blood pressure meters. That could allow consumers with chronic illnesses to have their readings electronically sent into their HealthVault records.

These sorts of activities can potentially help consumers better manage their health, and drive down health-care costs, said Neupert.

Microsoft says the HealthVault database was developed with Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle, as tight security and consumer privacy was a top priority in every stage of its development. HealthVault servers are physically located in the same facilities as Microsoft's MSN servers, but are isolated and locked off, said Nolan.

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