An article earlier this week in the Financial Times states that “Microsoft has abandoned efforts to make profits in the US out of its Healthvault cloud computing system“. Citing “complexity in the country’s health system“, Peter Neupert, corporate vice-president for health, says that the primary benefit to continued operation of Healthvault in the US is to “increase the brand relationship“. Not only will Microsoft not charge US users to use Healthvault, the company also committed to not attempt to generate revenue from advertising or other sources.
Microsoft is apparently still pursuing revenue generation opportunities in other countries in which Healthvault operates including Canada. Given Canada’s federated health system, with each province pursuing different priorities and approaches, will Microsoft and its Canadian partner, Telus, experience similar difficulties in achieving profitability?
Although I did not attend HIMSS in person this year I have been actively following the event on twitter, blogs, and various video sites. Based on what I have read and heard, I think that the following summary of the key themes emerging from HIMSS neatly sums things up:
Dr. Halamka is highly respected in the US healthcare IT and medical community. He plays an active role in the meaningful use debate as Chair of the US Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP). Of particular note in Dr. Halamka’s summar:
- “Cloud computing, Software as a Service and ASP models are popular tactics to accelerate EHR rollouts”
- “Self service kiosks for patient identification and self-registration are now mainstream. Just as we print our airline boarding passes, we can now use credit cards or biometrics to check into ambulatory care appointments and automatically settle all co-pay balances.”
- “PHRs and patient engagement are becoming more mainstream. Google and Microsoft continue to innovate in the non-tethered PHR marketplace.”
Based on what I read and heard, there was quite the buzz at HIMSS this year. I only wish that we could generate the same level of enthusiasm for healthcare IT (see, I’m saying eHealth less and less) in Canada. *sigh*
I have written many times in the past (on this blog and through other channels) on the potential of Microsoft to play a key role in consumer eHealth. In addition to Microsoft HealthVault, the company has released information about other ideas currently in their labs:
- smartphone apps that use sensors such accelerometers, camera, and microphone to help people keep daily logs of their activities. I am considering employing a personal trainer to get into better shape and they have suggested that keeping such a log is an important part of a wellness and fitness program.
- Use of xbox 360 platform in hospital rooms to “to feed information from electronic medical records onto in-room display screens for patients”
- Computers built into tabletops that would instruct patients on how to care for themselves when outsidemthe hospital. “The computers could be used to pull content like X-ray images from personal records, or other pictures from the Internet, and to save them for the patient to view later.”
While some of these ideas might seem far fetched, I find it interesting to watch how a large consumer electronics and software company like Microsoft is exploring health applications for their products.
A little more than a year ago I attended Microsoft session on Healthvault and asked about their business model; ie, how did they plan to make money? Part of the answer involved licensing deals in countries with publicly funded healthcare systems. While we have seen the first non-US implementation in Canada, it is not yet clear when we will see a provincial gov’t step to paying for healthvaults for its citizens. Just recently, Microsoft has announced a partnership with Siemens to roll out Healthvault in Germany
The article was light on details about revenue generation. However, I think that this news shows that there is still strong interest in Healthvault and we will yet see large scale deployments that somehow support electronic exchange of data with publicly funded eHealth systems.
In the summer of 2007 I interviewed a cancer patient who was using Grand River’s oncology portal (My CARE Source) for an article in Healthcare Information and Communications Canada magazine. My goal was to get a users view of the value of this service. Having survived Hodgkin’s disease as a teenager, the person who I interviewed was able to compare what it was like to battle cancer with and without the help of a computer-based tool. I was reminded of this interview when I read the following blog post about a new feature of Google Health that facilitates the sharing of personal health information:
Although the person I interviewed did not use the phrase “Personal Health Record” (PHR) during our conversation, she did offer a perspective echoed by many PHR supporters. She emphatically stated several times during our conversation that she felt very strongly that “they [her medical records] are my records and I feel that I should be able to have immediate access to them when I want.” Further, she asserted that she should be able to offer access to these records to whoever might be involved in any aspect of her care.
The blog post to which I refer above suggests that “the big next phase is people offering to share these records with their physicians. We’ll see but this may well be the killer app the PHR has been looking for—after all now a doctor just needs one Google sign-in which they almost certainly have anyway, and they can see all the Google Health PHRs of the patients who start sharing their records with them. And they will. This has the potential to be really disruptive.” What do you think of this perspective? Do you think that we will see physicians and patients electronically sharing health information?
I have written and spoken about Microsoft’s Healthvault service a number of times in the past few years. For those who haven’t heard of it, Healthvault is a personal health and medical information repository that is controlled by each individual, not a healthcare provider organization such as a hospital. Individuals specify who can access their Healthvault and can use it to quickly and easily share personal health information with whomever they choose.
One of the most significant decisions made by Microsoft in Healthvault’s design is that it is Perhaps the most significant reason is that it is a service, not an application. Rather than build their own health and wellness applications, Microsoft is encouraging others to do so. The result will be a rich and diverse collection of health and wellness applications all using Healthvault to store personal health information.
A recently announced example of how Healthvault can be used is the new the Hawaii Medical Services Association (HMSA), an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Assoction which provides health insurance to more than half of Hawaii’s residents. This service connects individuals seeking medical care with participating physicians either by phone or online using Web-based videoconferencing or secure chat. The service is highly interactive, with individuals able to have a real-time conversation with a physician and uses Microsoft’s Healthvault as one mechanism for sharing health and medical information with the physician.
According to HMSA, “Online consultations are not meant to replace in-person doctor visits; they simply provide another health care choice for talking to a doctor about a non-urgent condition or getting advice or answers.” In addition to providing advice about non-urgent conditions, physicians can also refill prescriptions, discuss medication discussions, or explain generic drugs.
What do you think of the Online Care service? It is a model that could work in Canada? Do you think that online delivery of specific healthcare services is a viable model? What about Microsof’t Healthvault? Will people be prepared to store their information on-line using applications such as Online Care?