Google, Microsoft Venture Into World of Personal Health Databases

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This winter, Google began storing the medical records of volunteer patients of the Cleveland Clinic. The beta test follows pilots of Microsoft's answer to patient-controlled online databases – HealthVault – and solutions introductions by small players.

While most patients and their health care providers still account for prescriptions, medical histories and allergic reactions on paper, consumers of all ages are interested in online databases, managing outsider access and feeding them with personal health records.

"With remote storage and Web access to medical records, it's a lot easier to keep track of a patient's health history," said Christy Goldfeder, a health coach in New York. "The old paper-file way isn't very effective. If you don't see your doctor for a few years, your file ends up forgotten in some storage facility."

For consumers who feel fit and forgo regular doctor's visits but need to summon their full medical profiles in a pinch, password-protected, online health-records management is an answer. For Google, a consumer-directed database is a natural extension of an innovative data-search tool and puts personal information in the same location ailing patients visit for details on diagnoses and medical conditions.

Goldfeder said consumers are comfortable exercising control over their health data and taking responsibility for keeping the database accurate and up-to-date. "As long as they understand that their records are highly secure, encrypted information, I think they would be fine with it," she said.

Wendy Angst, general manager of CapMed in Newtown, Pa., markets personal health records (PHR) storage in a variety of forms. Its first PHR launched in 1996, and its users still are supported.

"The patient can share data electronically with providers through standards-based reports, printed reports, the portable USB-flash technology or mobile phone," she said.

CapMed is wrapping up a pilot in which consumers themselves launched PHR databases in a visit to a pharmacy. CapMed pushes data to consumer records storage as it becomes available, at predetermined intervals or upon patient request.

Data can come from electronic medical records systems, insurance claims, prescription services, home monitoring devices and the Microsoft HealthVault – with which three CapMed offerings interact. IcePHR enables users to store emergency information online, icePHR Mobile enables users to store and share it from their mobile phones and Online PHR enables users to manage medical data over the Web.

The applications are populated with data from the HealthVault and they send information back to the HealthVault. "We were an early innovator on the HealthVault and are one of many applications users can utilize to make the HealthVault database work for them," Angst said.

The integration with HealthVault is a big win given Microsoft's tony name and far-reaching strategy. But it speaks volumes about the data-sourcing beasts CapMed has begun to slay.

"Our ongoing effort to maintain the latest with International Health Regulations, Health Level 7 [standards], American Society for Testing and Materials standards and National Council for Prescription Drug Programs standards, does not mean we can get data from any electronic system," she said. "The standards supported are highly dependent not just on the type of system but on the version deployed."

There is a lot of variance in amount, type and method of data stored. For example, CapMed can store medical images, as well as text-heavy files. It organizes information in a problem-oriented format so medication, test and treatment records are tied to the relevant problem.

"This will continue to evolve with an increase in electronic data sources and affordable and effective means for these to be integrated into the health care workflow," she predicted.

Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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