The Online Health Portal Trend

Microsoft has launched their free (ad-supported) online health portal, HealthVault.

Microsoft has launched their free (ad-supported) online health portal, HealthVault, as a response to consumer demand, beating competitor websites to the punch. The American Heart Association, Healthy Circles, and other companies have already signed on as partners, enabling HealthVault users to monitor and track blood pressure, weight gain, and other “health parameters.”

Microsoft’s new portal, which the Wall Street Journal calls “the first of its kind,” beat out top rivals Google and Revolution Health in the rush to be the first to release initial versions. Although HealthVault incorporates many new features and capabilities, some aspects of the new service will be familiar to users of other Microsoft products; the account login page mimics that of Microsoft’s free MSN Hotmail page.

Despite the excitement that has accompanied Microsoft’s announcement, there is mounting concern that collecting and storing patients’ healthcare data on the Web will leave ample opportunity for hackers to obtain sensitive information. According to Microsoft, they have “spent several years consulting with experts to ensure that HealthVault will keep personal information private.” As with any new software fresh out of the gate, any flaws in the system remain to be seen.

Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe…

Essentially, HealthVault works as a depository for medical data. “Consumers can download records such as lab reports or X-rays from their healthcare providers’ websites, or data from digital devices such as glucometers, and enter it into their HealthVault account.” Consumer advocates have suggested that the online aggregation of data is will potentially provide indirect benefits for patients (eg, evaluate procedure complications and treatment efficacy).

Microsoft is also looking into features for their portal that will enable users to retrieve and store personal health information on such devices as cell phones, or even wristwatches with wireless Internet connections. As part of its plans to further expand into the healthcare market, Microsoft has employed dozens of new staff members for a new health group, and purchased “a company that creates patient record databases,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Which site will appeal more to consumers? Google Health’s soon-to-be-released, competing portal will include a “‘health profile’ for medications, conditions and allergies; a personalized guide for diet, exercise, treatments and drug interactions; reminders for doctor visits and prescription refills; and a doctor directory.” (Access MDNG’s directory of physicians, listed by US state and specialty.)

Come Together Right Now

According to the Washington Post, a nationwide electronic health record (EHR) network would save more than $500 billion in medical costs over 15 years. The fact that ninety percent of physicians and more than 80 percent of hospitals still use paper records counteracts any sense of urgency to move to an electronic portal totally, however, according to Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman, Nancy Szemraj.

On May 23, Medco Health Solutions, Inc. announced a partnership with Revolution Health, adding yet another online health portal to the mix. Medco is a leading pharmacy benefit manager for more than 60 million American consumers. Revolution CEO, Steve Case, says “the much-needed transformation of health care in America today must start with empowering people to take action to live better. We [Revolution] will make healthy living easier to attain by providing the very best innovative and interactive tools and services, engaging and encouraging members to make meaningful, sustainable health changes in their lives.”

Included among the new features of the Medco/Revolution portal are increased access to Medco’s member prescription savings program, My Rx Choices®, which has been proven to lower consumer costs by 58 percent; doctor-treatment ratings; health trackers; and online health games. The services rely on user-generated data and generally do not permit users to share the data with others. Revolution, for example, plans to allow users to download prescription records into their accounts and access automatically updated, pre-populated prescription claims.

Which portal will best fit the needs of your patients? Current offerings are all too soon in their development cycles to declare a definite winner, and there will most likely be additional competitors that enter the market in the next several years. Still, physicians may want to at least check out the currently available portals, so that they will be able to help their patients evaluate these new services.