SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. launched a Web site Thursday for managing personal health and medical information, but privacy advocates worry that neither the technology nor U.S. law will protect patients’ most confidential details.
From the consumer’s point of view, Microsoft’s HealthVault site is part filing cabinet, part library and part fax machine for an individual’s or a family’s medical records and notes.
Microsoft has been kicking around the idea of a health site since at least 2000, when CEO Steve Ballmer described a “health vault” in a speech to financial professionals in New York.
The software maker isn’t the first to jump into the ring. Across the country, groups of providers are starting “regional health information organizations” to share data electronically.
Insurance providers and private companies market their own patient-controlled storehouses of records, and employers including Wal-Mart Stores offer workers such tools.
Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, has launched Revolution Health, an information Web site that offers a records management tool for paying members, and Google has indicated it will launch its own service.
Microsoft’s Windows operating system runs more than 90 percent of desktop computers, including those in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
The HealthVault site works with different operating systems and browsers, but Microsoft may have an edge with Windows desktop applications. The company launched one such program Thursday that helps upload data from devices like heart rate monitors.
The HealthVault site itself doesn’t do much more than provide a window into stored information and a mechanism for sharing it.
Microsoft hopes hospitals, doctors’ offices, advocacy groups and insurance companies will build Web applications that patients will want to use.
The American Heart Association, American Lung Association and other organizations have applications in the works, Microsoft said on Thursday.
And blood glucose monitoring systems made by Johnson & Johnson will be able to upload data into the system.
However, while consumers have been willing to send financial details over the Web in spite of identity-theft horror stories, many still consider private medical information too sensitive to put online.
The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, gives hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and related entities access to patients’ records without consent for various purposes.
Microsoft said it plans to support HealthVault with advertising revenue from the search portion of the site.
WHAT IS IT: The free Web site can store medical histories, immunization and other records from doctors’ offices and hospital visits, including data from devices like heart monitors. It is also tied to a health information search engine Microsoft launched last month.
HOW TO USE IT: Users can dole out access to different slices of their health data via e-mailed invitations to doctors, family members and other people as the need arises.