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Microsoft, Google Face Off On Healthcare

Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health want to be the repository of choice for millions of personal health records. Are they up to the task?

Microsoft and Google are taking their rivalry to the doctor's office, running competing services that allow people to store their medical records online for access by family members and healthcare providers.

Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault are similar approaches: They let patients input their own medical data either by typing it in or by giving permission for the vendor to get the information from a healthcare provider or insurer with which it's partnering. Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault then provide tools for those partners to give the patient personalized health advice and other services built around the person's records.

These "personal health records"--PHRs for short--complement electronic medical records. Both types of records contain a lot of the same information on the patient's conditions, test results, prescriptions, and other medical data. But PHRs are compiled and controlled by the patient, while EMRs are compiled and, for the most part, controlled by the doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations.

Google's Approach

Google Health aims to let consumers "get more directly involved in their healthcare," said Roni Zeiger, product manager for Google Health. "Medicine continues to become more complicated, doctors have less and less time to spend with patients in the exam room, and each of us as a patient has greater responsibility to take care of ourselves and our loved ones."

Google has been a leading player in e-health simply because searches on healthcare topics have always been popular. When people get sick--or think they getting sick--one of the first things they do is go online for information.

"What I hear from a lot of my doctor friends is that people are often coming in with a pretty big pile of questions that they've gotten from reading online or elsewhere," said Zeiger, who's a practicing doctor. "Sometimes those are well-informed questions, sometimes less so. Part of our mission is to narrow down the 20 pages worth of questions to perhaps one page of more informed questions."

That's good for the patient, and it also lets doctors see patients more quickly without compromising quality of care. And sometimes patients find treatments in their research that their own doctors aren't aware of.

Google Health, which was launched last year, provides an interface where users can type in data. Users can also give Google Health permission to access data held by various healthcare companies. For example, more than 100 million people in the U.S. can give Google Health access to electronic copies of their prescription histories at a pharmacy or pharmacy benefit manager, such as CVS Caremark, Walgreens, and Medco Health Solutions.

Google Health lets people organize all relevant health information in one safe place, Zieger said.

Partnering Up

Google is teaming with other organizations that can use its PHRs to offer personalized information and services. For example, the American Heart Association--with your permission--will check your blood tests imported from another partner, Quest Diagnostics, to find out your cholesterol level, blood pressure readings, and correlate those with other health data, such as whether you have diabetes. It then can compile all the information to determine your ten-year risk for a heart attack, and what you can do to lower the risk.

Another example: Google Health partner MDLiveCare, which offers video consultations with doctors, let a patient click a button on the MDLiveCare site to import all of his or her medical history from Google Health. That way the doctor has some background on the patient's medical condition.

Cleveland Clinic, a not-for-profit academic medical center, lets patients export their records into Google Health. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, has linked its PatientSite patient portal to Google Health. Other partners that are letting Google import medical and drug prescription information, with a patient's permission, include Allscripts, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Google Health is free to consumers and partner organizations. Google expects that, as more people use Google Health services, they'll do more searches, which will increase the company's ad revenue.

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