Google and Microsoft Want Their Fingers On Your Pulse

Dennis Faas's picture

In October of last year, Microsoft launched HealthVault, a free online, encrypted storage area where individuals could manage their own medical record. Now, Google has tabled their own health storage offering called (surprisingly) Google Health. The battle for your medical record has begun.

Both Google Health and Microsoft's HealthVault provide a secure place to store and maintain health data. The data that can be stored varies but will generally include records of vital statistics (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, height, weight, etc.), patient family history, and disease or problem-related information such as blood sugar levels (diabetes management), active medications, physical exam data and the like. Theoretically, there is no limitation to the type of data that could be stored. X-rays, CT scans and imaging data could easily be added and, in fact, Microsoft is expanding the number of medical devices that can directly interface with their system. (Source:

The idea, one presumes, is that at some point in the future, relevant medical information will be available whenever needed. Your personal physician, the hospital, pharmacist and any other health care professionals could all access your information provided you have agreed to "share" it with them. However, getting everybody to agree on the data formats and the means of access is no small feat. The U.S. government has funded various pilot efforts to do this over the last 25 years with little success. Now, Google and Microsoft are going to give it a go using their huge data storage and management facilities.

The tactics used by the two companies are similar. While Microsoft also seems to be trying to establish broad compatibility with various medical devices, both companies are trying to sign up large patient populations. Microsoft has already signed on with the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Mayo Clinic. The first Google pilot will be a joint effort with the prestigious Cleveland Clinic. This is expected to be followed by the Harvard Medical School hospitals. The battle for other plum medical institutional "turf" might soon include UCLA Medical Center, pre-paid health plans like Kaiser-Permanente, Johns Hopkins, the Veteran's Administration and others. (Source:

Both ventures have focused on the privacy and security aspects of their respective sites. Unfortunately,  there are other bothersome issues. For example, it's easy to see how insurance companies could soon coerce users into allowing them to access their medical records, and there will always be troubling elements in allowing the patient to control their own medical record data.

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