Microsoft Vaults Ahead into the Personal Health Information Space

* I am out at the Eli Lilly Health 2.0 Summit and just finished a presentation by Microsoft Health Services team. It was an interesting presentation, if but for nothing else to show their worldwide commitment to health. It reminded me of the June Health Vault Summit I attended where I wrote but forgot to post a summary from the meeting.

I am flying home from the HealthVault Connected Care Conference in Seattle. I left with two big takeaways which will be addressed in two separate posts. It was a great trip, in fact refreshing in many ways, coming on the heels of a wonderful but intellectually strenuous series of meetings for the X PRIZE. In fact, I have never been to Seattle when it was so beautiful – perfectly warm and sunny days with intermittent cumulus clouds and light breezes whose temperature was nearly imperceptible. My favorite evening in town was spent watching sailboats glide effortlessly around the Sound in the fading sunlight of a perfect day. Magic.

Perhaps the setting got me in a good mood, but I walked away very clearly impressed with what Microsoft is attempting to do with their health care strategy. I have to be clear – as an ardent and passionate open source advocate (recovering zealot) – I was very ambivalent about stepping clearly into and over “enemy” lines during my sojourn in Redmond. I was quickly put at ease by the West Coast flavor of the meeting (ie, casual business dress with a young-ish crowd, high energy music, and overall good karma) and the impressive lineup of speakers and attendees. Furthermore, this was the first time I was actually able to figure out what the heck HealthVault really is and how all these various partnerships I keep reading about even begin to make sense.

Let me explain.

The big debate in the media has been positioned as a HealthVault versus Google for domination in the PHR space. In fact, I have written about this contest as a no contest as it so clearly favors Google. The Google I know and love is fast evolving, agile, and no-nonsense developer of web-based tools that make my life easier. In fact, they have become my personal computing platform of choice (Gmail, Calendar, documents, chat, video, etc). This contrasts starkly to Microsoft’s traditional proprietary platform lock in approach. I figured that their approach to health management would be the same.

Actually, 18 months later, I was surprised when I peeled back the onion. From my perspective, HealthVault has chosen to address one of the thorniest issues in healthcare by taking on the hard job of trying to integrate the personal health information mess that exists for consumers (affectionately called the “Healthcare Hairball” by Esther Dyson). Essentially, HealthVault can be considered a “translational” database – what I mean by that is it takes variable health care information inputs (from devices, EMR’s, labs, images, documents) and then stashes them away in your health “vault”. This information is then available to be retrieved and accessed (or translated) by a variety of “viewers” or output tools suited to the individuals needs and wants.

So, if you are willing to conform to HealthVault’s database standards, you can become a contributor to an individuals lifetime record; conversely, if you are willing to subscribe to HealthVault’s UI rules, you can then retrieve any information that is stored in the same database. As such, HealthVault becomes this centralized repository for all information and the source from which information can populate innumerable other applications. Given Microsofts vast resources, and their strong commitment to developing out the their health care business, they become a safe bet to invest time and resources for the storing and translation of personal health care information to and from nearly any device. As a result, a very robust community of data and device partners have begun to aggregate around the platform.

This obviously plays well into Microsofts strategy wherein they can give away HealthVault for free to consumers (who aren’t going to pay for this anyway) in an effort to bring other Microsoft products and partners to the consumer who has invested in the platform. I was able to see this in Amalgam, which functions as a sophisticated HealthVault of sorts for hosptials and large health care organizations in managing their disparate data sources, types, and translation needs. It also plays well into a platform / widget strategy which has far reaching potential. I got to see this in some private demonstrations regarding their new BING search engine (since HealthVault literally knows your health profile, they are able to contextualize search in an unbelievably personal way). The possibilities for the community of data and device companies as well as new and interesting widgets of functionality to grow seems palpable based on current progress and projected growth.

So kudos to Peter Neupert and crew for the progress to date. I was impressed.

But I was also puzzled at the same time – Where (on earth ) Is Google Health?

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Filed under Conferences, Health 2.0, Innovation

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