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HealthVault Signs on Kaiser

by John Moore | June 09, 2008

Today is the first day of the big HealthVault developers’ conference Microsoft is hosting. Purpose of the conference is to bring together the “legions” of developers that are looking to build Personal Health Applications (PHAs) on top of the HealthVault platform, what I refer to as a Personal Health System (PHS).

As with any such event, we’ll be seeing a lot of press releases come out of Microsoft and to a lesser extent, various partners.  The biggest one today is the announcement that Kaiser-Permanente will do a trial with HealthVault.  Microsoft issued a similar press release.

Why this is Important

HealthVault, Google and to a lesser extent (or at least quieter) Dossia, are all looking to create an ecosystem around which other applications and services will be built.

An ecosystem/platform model is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. First, there is the strategy to get as many developers as possible building applications on a given platform/system. This creates a critical mass of features that will in-turn attract consumers to the ecosystem accelerating growth, presence and ultimately revenue. But before dedicating precious development resources, smaller software companies want to see if the ecosystem provider can deliver customers that may want to use their application(s), subscribing to their service and delivering revenue.  If there are few consumers, what’s the point in spending those precious resources?

To date, 3rd party PHAs have gone as much on faith as anything else assuming that Microsoft’s HealthVault group (and Google Health) would be successful in attracting consumers. After a pretty poor, at least from the consumer’s perspective, launch of HealthVault last October, it was much to that team’s credit that they were able to attract so many development partners. In a conversation I had with the HealthVault team a couple of months ago, they stated that they were in discussion with over 100 potential PHA partners and I’m sure that list has only grown. Today, they announced that there are now over 40 PHAs up and running on HealthVault. Then there is also Microsoft’s seed funding, Be Well Fund, which was oversubscribed to the point where they actually increased funding by 50% as there were so many good proposals. Microsoft is being very aggressive in developing that ecosystem.

Now it just needs to bring in the consumers, and that’s where Kaiser comes in.

Kaiser-Permanente is partnering with Microsoft HealthVault to potentially provide Kaiser’s 8.7 million plus members the opportunity to port their Kaiser records to HealthVault. While there may be 8.7 million Kaiser  members, today roughly a third, 3 million, are active users of Kaiser’s PHR, but that is still a huge number and arguably the most PHR users under any one umbrella in North America. (Note: Kaiser has done a spectacular job with their tethered PHR, My Health Manager, which is based on the EPIC MyChart patient portal. What really impresses me with the Kaiser PHR is that they continually are measuring and assessing consumer use fine tuning features to best serve both consumers and physicians. They really are setting the standard in the provider space.)

Kaiser will, like Cleveland Clinic did with Google, begin with a trial (beta) enlisting Kaiser’s 156,000 employees to opt-in to use HealthVault. It will be interesting to see just how many opt-in as in the Cleveland Clinic-Google beta, only about 16% of those presented with the opportunity opted-in.

The initial trial will run through the summer providing Kaiser an opportunity to test the platform’s ability to securely transfer records and populate a HealthVault account. Once the beta program is completed, provided its successful and there is no obvious reason why it won’t be, Kaiser will allow its 8.7 million members the opportunity to transfer their records from My Health Manager to HealthVault.

In the conference call today, which oddly enough only had two people asking questions, myself and another, I asked two questions, which were answered by Anna Lisa Silvestre, VP Online Services, Kaiser-Permanente. Note, these are not direct, verbatim responses, but basically the gist of what she communicated.

Ques: Will you be testing the transfer of complete records?

Ans: No, we will test the system by transferring an employee’s health summary that will include immunizations, allergies, medications and conditions.  We will use the Continuity of Care Document (CCD) standard to facilitate transfer of these records.

Ques: Will you consider other platforms in the future (this was my roundabout way of asking, is Google in the cards)?

Ans: Yes, we will consider other platforms in the future as this is not exclusive.  Such choices will depend on value that can be ultimately delivered to the end consumer/member.  That being said, we will not partner with every PHR company in the market but will look at a number of factors including security and privacy policies foremost among them.


Now if I’m a developer at the HealthVault event this week, I sure would be excited hearing this news as it offers the potential for 3 million plus consumers coming on-board by the end of the year.  But is that not the Big Question – if we build it will they come?

In the Cleveland Clinic-Google beta, it appears that the majority of consumers sat back and were not willing (or didn’t see enough value) to move their records to Google Health. Sure, it may have been security and privacy issues that held them back but my bet is that it was just indifference.

It remains to be seen just how many of Kaiser’s employees and later, members will do likewise, which brings us back to the beginning: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Will these PHSs and their development partners provide enough value (features) to bring in the consumer?  Will developers continue investing in creating enough interesting apps to attract the consumer and hopefully justify their investment?  We are a long ways from finding out the answers to these questions but what is clear is that some very significant players, representing large pools of consumers, Cleveland Clinic, Beth Israel and now Kaiser, are willing to offer consumers the opportunity to take direct control of their records and try these platforms for themselves. That is a start in the right direction.

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