It’s not often that Microsoft gets the drop on Google. But today it launched HealthVault in beta, a free online repository where anyone can keep their personal health records. Meanwhile, Google Health has yet to launch, having recently lost its leader Adam Bosworth.
With HealthVault, you can import your health records from your doctors, hospitals, labs, prescription drug plans, and other healthcare providers. You can also type them in yourself, or upload data from personal health monitoring devices such as glucose or blood-pressure monitors. The site also incorporates a health-specific search engine like Healthline’s (here is the results page for “glucose“), and lets you save your searches. Microsoft plans to make money through health-related search ads, but says it won’t target those ads to any personal data in someone’s stored medical record. Access to the site will require a Windows Live ID and a password that you can share with healthcare providers. Patient privacy will obviously be a major concern here, and fears of compromising it will likely be the biggest hurdle to adoption among both consumers and their doctors.
But it is worth trying to overcome that hurdle. Getting people to embrace digital personal health records is a Holy Grail for both the healthcare and technology industries. By making health records accessible on the Web to both patients and their doctors, better tracking of medical conditions and quicker responses to changes in those conditions could yield vast improvements in healthcare outcomes. Dangerous symptoms could be spotted earlier by doctors, while at the same time patients would have the information necessary to better take care of themselves. A shift to widespread use of online personal health records is the first step needed to change the focus of the healthcare system from one of constantly treating full-blown ailments to preventing them in the first place.