Recently, Microsoft announced a new website to hold users’ health records. The project, called HealthVault, aims to store concerned citizens’ records for later retrieval by a physician or hospital staff. Google and AOL have also announced similar plans to create their own brands of healthcare databases.
According to Microsoft’s press releases, the company is teaming up with medical device manufactures so that patients can automatically upload the results of their glucose and blood pressure readings to HealthVault. No more keeping a paper log to bring to the doctor’s office on the next visit. Simply plug the device into the computer and the Internet takes care of the rest. The process of saving health records in a central location sounds like a good idea. However, this website is doomed to failure. HealthVault and other similar databases have their novelty right now, but will eventually fade into obscurity for three reasons.
1. Privacy concerns. Given the recent break-ins of credit card and other high profile corporate databases, Americans are going to be weary about putting their private information in a central location that can eventually be hacked. According to the Wall Street Journal article, of the available technological options for storing data, the online warehouse is the least popular.
2. No standards. At least three private companies have announced similar plans to launch healthcare databases. Noting that Microsoft has a history of not following standards tells me that this database will not be interchangeable with other health information aggregators. Hospitals will have to re-live the multiple insurance hell through the Internet age by adopting various methods of downloading data from a variety of online databases. Further, users will have difficulty switching. I doubt that moving from Google to AOL will be as simple as finding a new physician and writing to the old one to ask for a transfer in records.
3. These databases don’t hold enough usable information. While the benefits of having easily available charts for physicians to share is a major selling point, HealthVault will not contain enough useful information to become viable for hospital utilization. By only holding blood pressure and glucose readings, this website misses out on medication lists and progress notes—more worthwhile sets of information, particularly when seeing multiple providers.
In summary, while I would like to see an online database that stores patients’ health records, HealthVault falls short by not employing standards, nor containing enough data to be fully usable. Once a more centralized, preferably non-profit database opens up, I’m sure more physicians and patients will want to embrace it. I can imagine Medicare pushing us in that direction. The federal government could benefit from aggregating patients’ information to reduce billing costs by having a sole provider who can keep track of different specialists and prescriptions. Pharmacies could hook into this server to monitor refills and potential drug interactions when filling multiple medications.