Microsoft and the EMR

To swipe a lead-in from the WSJ Healthcare Blog, “Microsoft finally beat Google at something”.

From the straight reporting:

The Wall Street Journal Home PageA new Microsoft Web site announced Thursday, called HealthVault, includes a secure way to upload data such as blood-pressure readings so consumers can keep record of their health information. The “personal health center,” as Microsoft calls it, is designed to allow consumers to share such information with physicians and other medical professionals. The site also offers Internet search and a Web page for viewing and organizing articles and other information on health.

HealthVault is the latest step in a two-year effort by Microsoft to build software and services in the health field, targeting both consumers and health-care organizations. The company has quietly built a group of programmers and professionals with related expertise, and purchased several companies to help speed its move into healthcare.

I think this could be a very important development toward a more-universal EHR.  The current focus on internet-connectible BP monitors is weird, and what I’d like to see it used for are things like your latest EKG, etc.  I would guess major clinics and hospitals will partner with MS as a ‘value-added’ feature to entice patients to use their health system (“we’ll make your results available to all your doctors 24/7” sound more reassuring and less like a threat to privacy).

We’ll see how this plays out, and I think it’s got a lot of promise (and some talented deep-pockets behind it), so here’s to MS for getting out in front on internet storage of health care information.


  1. I never thought about it until reading this, but if somebody came up with a decent template, and resolved the security issues – hosting free medical records would be a great way for somebody to make money.

    The way I see it – some hosting service could sell ads to pharma companies so that when the doc opened the chart, there was a small bar on the side with ads. Since the chart would be actually secured somewhere offsite from the physicians office, and available online from any subscriber (with appropriate logs kept of who accessed the charts) you could see entries from other physicians.

    Wow. Somebody do it!

  2. One of the things that has to happen with any of these things, whether it’s from Microsoft or Google or whoever, is absolute assurance that the true owner of the information has absolute control of the information.
    I’m not sure that can ever happen. It remains to be seen who will have interest in gaining access to this, whether the government will claim some right to it, whether enterprising Microsoft employees or outsiders will snoop through this. If it’s at some undisclosed location(s), how are you to know? Who’s to blame if someone gets access? What is the damage done?
    I think a more sensible thing is that the individual have some kind of storage device in their possession that can be uploaded at their discretion with encrypted information, and you need feedback every time your information gets transmitted, from whom to whomever.

  3. Greg,
    I’d agree that a patient controlled portable storage device would increase data security, but to me defeats the purpose of being able to digitally store data. It’s like having a file folder that’s just easier to carry.

    I like the remote storage option because people lose, destroy or just don’t carry more basic things like drivers licenses, but the remotely-stored-on-a-server information (ideally) should be available all the time. That’s what I favor, and will concede this would be less secure than the mechanism you propose.

  4. EHR maintenance system from Microsoft is a great step ahead in the objective of organzing medical records of patient as well as integrating medical service delivery with individual personal database. However, Microsoft needs to take care about portabilty with medical database management software from rival companies. Say for instance, the Oracle 11g that finds wide application in medical database mangement should find a place to be integrated with Microsoft’s plans for its foray into medical arena.

  5. Another worry I have is that, if some see this as useful, there will be a push to make it mandatory — from your insurance company, from the government.

    And we know how unselfish these groups are.

  6. First of all, I expect that Microsoft will try to find a way to profit from this, if it becomes successful enough. I also agree with Greg P. … if it were to work out really well, there could be some of sort carrot/stick motivational ploy from insurance companies, or even government involvement (God forbid!)

    I think I would be a bit more comfortable about it if it had been initialized through some major medical group – like an informatics group.

    What I think we’ll find in the (distant) future will be a trend toward personal chips – they’re secure, unable to be lost or misplaced (hopefully!), and as technology advances, it will be possible to maintain complete, up to date records. There’s a lot of resistance to this idea, but it really is a great option.

  7. I wonder how many sheeple will be stupid enough to make their personal medical information available on a site run by Microsoft. I’d never trust any website with that data. Microsoft has 5 to 10 security patches a month for their operating system alone. You think they can run a secure website. What a joke.

  8. Jim in Texas says:

    Greg P
    “is absolute assurance that the true owner of the information has absolute control of the information.
    I’m not sure that can ever happen.

    Assrot (clever name)
    “never trust any website with that data.”

    “You think they can run a secure website. What a joke.”

    Pulease, We haven’t had any secrecy since data was collected on 80 column punch cards and very little we can do will keep us off websites, secure or not. The only options any of us have had since the 1960’s was to make sure that what was on those databases were at least somewhat accurate or at least not as un-factual (is that a word?) as they could be. Not that it really mattered to anyone but us.

    Most of our lives have been online since credit cards started using Memorex, including the good the bad and the ugly, but mostly the bland.

    As for the criticism that MS can’t run a secure website, of course they can’t, no one can, including the U.S. Government. You think it’s a coincidence that the FBI has stayed off line as long as it has? Although I’d heard somewhere they had started permitting email; expect that to lead to J’edgar’s private files to get posted online any day.

    At least in this instance the information might be of some passing interest to someone who ostensibly might have your best interests at heart, maybe….hmmm a tad insensitive but I’ve always tried to be forthright.

    Short of living like Ted Kaczynski (and that only bought him 10-20 years) our lives are pretty much tied up online.

    Now all we really have to worry about is faster data bases searches and new retrieval paradigms…..oops

  9. About 1967, when I was a medical resident at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, I learned of a computerized physical exam. They had two MDs with a mania for using computers in medicine. The unsolvable problem of the time was getting docs to agree on the wording of individuals descriptions of physical findings. The small group of 4 docs who were attempting to be the committee to standardize could not agree. Later, I heard internists from Philadelphia describe getting hung up on whether a description of looking in the ears was an essential of a good physical exam. These particular problems can be solved by fiat–but the acceptance of a single standard in medicine with various specialties will never be workable. At least we now have better search engines that allow some free-form text.
    My own sticking point, having used a free-form text for office visits for five year: separating wheat from chaff. Do we want the description of all the home blood pressures or home blood glucose tests to share the same space with the echocardiogram report? I don’t think the universal EMR will ever work. So we will be left with descriptions of patient’s history and patient’s physical findings by docs we know and with whom we have some familiarity. We will trust some more than others. This is not the purvue of the computerized EMR.
    My patient who was into this in a federal job was excoriating medicine in general for failing to get with the advances in computerization. But she was a chemist who had actually validated a lot of web information. Standards in chemistry are not as hard as “standards” of description in medicine.
    I think we have improved in computerization in 40 years, but we will never achieve the wonderful nirvana believed by some” an insurance company rep can just look at the EMR and understand why certain tests were ordered and authorize their payment. The emergency room doc can look at all the records of the comatose patient for the past year. Sorta nice ideas, but they just won’t work for reasons unrelated to computer software and hardware.

  10. Lee in AZ says:

    I have no faith in electronics as far as reliability (system is always down when you need it)..and I use a physician who does not use a computer for any patient medical info…I left one who went to using one….And as far as security…that seems to be as real as the tooth fairy.
    I do not want my medical records online period…