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link its network to HealthVault. Also, Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, CA-based managed care giant, has an online patient portal that enables its members to access their personal health information.
Exact numbers of HealthVault users are difficult to come by, because Microsoft doesn’t release such information. Neupert declined a request to be interviewed at last week’s meeting. HealthVault was launched in October 2007 with much fanfare. Microsoft’s model for the offering has been to provide a secured repository for patient data kept in HealthVault (as the name suggests) and to make its platform open for independent software outfits to develop applications to offer patients multiple options for managing their health online. There are more than 100 apps for HealthVault, and the platform connects with more than 50 types of devices, Neupert said.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, for example, has a HealthVault app that allows patients to store their electronic records from the hospital in their own personal health record. (The same app from Beth Israel appears to be available for Google Health, and the app contributors to both platforms that I’ve talked to such as Myca Health and MedApps sounded equally agnostic about the two.) Also, the Center for Connected Health is developing an app for HealthVault that is intended to help diabetics track their blood sugar and share such information with their physicians. It may still take years for patients to easily access their lab results and other health data on the Web, but whether that number of years is two or 12 isn’t really clear.
“We’re not too close yet with a real value proposition of, ‘What do I do with this information now that I have it,’” said Roni Zeiger, product manager of Google Health. Many of the folks who have opened Google Health accounts, he said, tend to be anal-retentive types who like having all their health information neatly organized in one place “just in case.” But there was consensus among the Google, Microsoft, and WebMD representatives that the average person is going to need something more than a place to keep his records to motivate him to sign up for a personal health record account.
In fact, much is uncertain about the future of personal health records. Will Google and Microsoft’s platforms, both of which offer open standards for developers to build healthcare apps, emerge as the winners? Will WebMD, which does not allow an open format for app development, eventually find itself at a competitive disadvantage? Perhaps the right approach for success hasn’t yet arrived. Neupert noted that even though AOL was successful for a time, the media and services company eventually took a back seat to its Internet competitors with superior business models.
So we’ll have to wait and see how successfully Microsoft and its competitors navigate these early days in the online personal health data business.
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