Microsoft executives have long talked about their plans to push technology further into the health care field, both at the lab bench and the bedside. The company made some first steps with a couple of recent acquisitions and today, it's launching a new "software plus services" combination designed to help people compile personal health data and share it with doctors.
HealthVault, as the company is branding this effort (the first of many ways it is emphasizing privacy), allows users to create an account online that will store data such as medical history, health plan information, prescriptions, images, cholesterol and blood pressure readings. The data can be entered by the patient or by a medical provider authorized by the patient.
Still in testing, the service is free. Security and identity are verified using Windows Live ID, the same sign-on protocol used for accessing the company's Web-based email and instant messaging services.
Underlying the end-user application is a platform -- this is Microsoft, after all -- to connect all of the various sources and outlets for medical data. The company is releasing a software developer kit for medical device makers and others who want to build applications based on HealthVault.
Another element is a new HealthVault Search service, based on MedStory, which Microsoft acquired in February. Health is one of the four areas Microsoft is emphasizing with its refreshed Live Search service. The HealthVault Search returns results from authoritative sources, which can be stored in a HealthVault account. Search is one way Microsoft plans to monetize the overall HealthVault effort.
The first question everyone who hears about this has is whether people will be comfortable sharing their most personal information with a big tech company, be it Microsoft, or Google, which also has designs on this business.
To assure users, before creating an account, Microsoft offers these promises:
* The Microsoft HealthVault record you create is controlled by you.
* You decide what information goes into your HealthVault record.
* You decide who can see and use your information,on a case-by-case basis.
* We do not use your health information for commercial purposes unless we ask and you say clearly that we may.
How do you feel about compiling your medical records in one place and trusting Microsoft or Google to handle them?