Microsoft Explains HealthVault Strategy

With comparisons to both its Xbox platform and the PayPal online payment platform, Microsoft aims to correct common misperceptions about its HealthVault platform.  

With comparisons to both Microsoft's Xbox platform and the PayPal online payment platform, Microsoft aims to correct common misperceptions about its HealthVault platform.

Grad Conn, Healthcare and Life Sciences senior director for global consumer strategy, Microsoft, addressed attendees at Microsoft's Health and Life Sciences Developer Conference held April 22 through 24 in Atlantic City to explain that Microsoft is pioneering a new technology category with Microsoft's recent Amalga and HealthVault launches.

"Amalga is definitely not just a health information system, it's not just a data warehouse or a data mart, and it's not a personal health record (PHR) or an electronic health record (EHR). We're coining a new term, the Unified Intelligence system," Conn said. This means that Amalga brings together any and all relevant patient information and presents that information to clinical enterprise applications and users, he said.

HealthVault, he said, also aggregates personal health information, but allows consumers to control access to the information along with the sharing of their own health information. HealthVault also enables consumers to collaborate with caregivers and connect to new sources of health information.

He said that some health care industry groups have expressed concerns that, with these forays into the enterprise and consumer health and life sciences market, Microsoft is trying to dominate the industry and siphon customers.

To counter that assertion, Conn said Microsoft was simply trying to provide a platform on top of which industry organizations and companies can develop health and life sciences technology applications and services for consumers. Conn offered Microsoft's Xbox gaming platform as an example.

"In 1999 we didn't know anything about making games, but we knew how to make development platforms and consoles," Conn said. Microsoft then encouraged software and game developers to create games and applications that ran on the Xbox platform. By 2001, Conn said, Microsoft had a number of games to run on that platform.

HealthVault, he said, is in the same place that Xbox was in 1999. "We don't know anything about cardiology, or cancer treatment or managing diseases. But we're pretty good at storing data and making and connecting applications," Conn said.

The goal was to provide ways for consumers to better understand their health and health information and manage that information for themselves.

Conn explained that with consumers as the aggregators and the controllers of to whom, how and when their information can be shared, the traditional health information model is turned on its head.

"Right now, the mechanism for this is through HIPAA, which dictates how to control patient privacy when patients don't control the records," Conn said. HIPAA, he said, has very clear rules that patients can request to see, copy, add to or delete any piece of health information in their record, and HealthVault uses those same procedures, but in a digital format.

"HealthVault seeks to integrate the data for an individual and provides them control over that record," Conn said. That focus on consumer control makes the HealthVault platform very similar to PayPal, the ubiquitous online payment platform, he said.

"HealthVault is PayPal for health information. PayPal allows you to store and share your financial information, if you choose to, and HealthVault works the same way," Conn said. However, he stressed that, with PayPal, users share only the pieces of their financial life that they are comfortable making available to e-commerce sites. HealthVault users are in complete control of information sharing, as well, Conn said.