Microsoft has announced it will integrate encrypted e-mail functionality into its HealthVault personal health platform.
The new feature allows doctors to exchange messages with patients using the federal Direct Project's security standard for developing HIEs (health information exchanges). Patients can receive a full view of their medical history from doctors and use electronic communication to transfer it into their personal health records, Microsoft reports.
HealthVault allows users to manage medication schedules, store lab test results and keep track of fitness goals. It also directs patients to other online tools to manage chronic conditions such as allergies, diabetes and heart disease.
The second phase of the government's guidelines on meaningful use of electronic health records calls for secure online patient messaging, according to Peter Neupert, corporate vice president of Microsoft's health solutions group.
Eventually, providers will be able to send secure messages to each other and transfer patient records within HealthVault, Neupert wrote in a blog post. This information is critical for doctors to be able to make decisions regarding patient care, Neupert noted.
Disparate systems in health care prevent information from being easily shared, whether in paper file folders or inaccessible electronic systems, according to Neupert.
"Historically, the data has been hard to get," Neupert wrote. "Within the hospital, it is trapped in siloed systems that support different departments but aren't connected."
The "open government" Direct Project was created to make this exchange of information easier. "The initial goal of the Direct Project is to specify a simple, secure, scalable, standards-based way for participants to send authenticated, encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet," Gartner analyst Wes Rishel said in a statement.
Along with EHR developers AllScripts and MedPlus as well as HIE provider VisionShare, Microsoft is an early member of the Direct Project, Neupert wrote.
Microsoft announced the update to HealthVault on Feb. 2. at a Washington, D.C., Health & Human Services Department event highlighting Direct Project pilot implementations in Minnesota and Rhode Island.
"This is an important milestone in our journey to achieve secure health information exchange, and it means that health care providers large and small will have an early option for electronic exchange of information supporting their most basic and frequently needed uses," Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology, said in a statement regarding the Direct Project. On Feb. 3 Blumenthal announced he will step down this spring to return to an academic career at Harvard University.
Direct Project pilot projects will soon follow in California, Connecticut, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, according to HHS. The Obama administration aims for formal adoption of the standards and wide availability for health care providers by 2012.
"This is a new approach to public sector leadership, and it works," Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer, said in a statement. "Instead of depending on a traditional top-down approach, stakeholders worked together to develop an open, standardized platform that dramatically lowers costs and barriers to secure health information exchange. The Direct Project is a great example of how government can work as a convener to catalyze new ideas and business models through collaboration."
MedPlus and VisionShare will demonstrate Microsoft's new HealthVault e-mail functionality at the HIMSS11 health care IT, which will be held in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 20-24.