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HealthVault Surges, Google Flounders

by John Moore | September 29, 2008

Late last week I received a note from Sean Nolan, Chief Architect for Microsoft’s HealthVault. While Sean and I certainly share a passion for the home town team, the Red Sox, he was not writing to share the joy of seeing the Red Sox capture a play-off berth. No, Sean was writing to tell me about his latest post, a post where he discusses where HealthVault is today and how one might use HealthVault to manage their personal health.

Sean calls his post, “The HealthVault Nickel Tour.” After reading the post, the only thing I could think was if he did this for a nickel, can’t imagine what he might do for a dollar.

Sean’s post provides a comprehensive overview of the HealthVault capabilities available today and how one might engage and use them. He also talks about some of the challenges they have faced in creating these capabilities and how the HealthVault team is looking to place much of the functionality they are building today into the SDK to enable developers the ability to create new and novel apps for the consumer. Though I did groan at times at Sean’s use of superlatives, it is clear that he is very excited about what they are doing and tries to convey that excitement to the broader community.

So what did I come away with:

  • The HealthVault team is making progress in building out the functionality and improving the usability of HealthVault. Still not great, but it is improving. This is crucial for building out an ecosystem based on the HealthVault framework and ultimately create greater value for the end user.
  • Still looks like a lot of self-entry for the consumer to actually get some value out of the platform. Sean does discuss how they are working closely with the healthcare community to “get the data”, but right now, the only one offering such from the provider side is BIDMC and they are only providing meds and allergy data. The HealthVault team has been working closely with other providers such as Mayo Clinic, NY Presbyterian, and MedStar for sometime now (even before BIDMC), but for some reason unbeknown to me, the data still doesn’t flow. Keep asking myself, when? Along this vein, would have been nice to see a data import process from one of the PHR partner’s products. Don’t really care who, just show the process of how it would be done and how it would stay updated.
  • Very clear that this is a consumer controlled personal health site. The consumer has control as to what data/records are imported, what are ignored and who has access. It is up to the consumer to reconcile records, based on their knowledge (could be risky) and there are tools available to assist with the reconciliation process. HealthVault also provides audit capabilities for an account so one can clearly see who has accessed, imported and/or modified data within their account.
  • One of the unique strengths of the HealthVault platform is its ability to import biometric data directly from a number of devices (over 40 different devices today). To enable this feature though, you must first download software (its free) called Connection Center to your computer. Great, unless of course you own a Mac. In Microsoft fashion, they have limited this capability to PCs only. Hopefully, a Connection Center for the Mac is forthcoming.

Arguably, the most important thing I came away with after reviewing this post is the amount of effort and resources that Microsoft is putting behind this initiative. This is in very stark contrast to Google Health.

Since releasing Google Health to the general public on May 19th of this year, I have seen very little from Google in terms of new capabilities, features, development plans, etc. Nothing of significance has come out of Google and my attempts to learn “what’s up” have been met with “it’s all on our public website” (of which there is very little). Sometimes I get the impression that Google Health is one of those Google 20% projects that a few engineers got together to work on and that’s about it. From the Google Job site:

We offer our engineers “20-percent time” so that they’re free to work on what they’re really passionate about. Google Suggest, AdSense for Content and Orkut are among the many products of this perk.

Those few engineers may still be working on Google Health, but that is a pretty small set of resources to address what is a very complex problem. Leaves me with the impression that Google is simply floundering along with their health initiative, unwilling to commit serious resources until the market reaches a predefined stage of maturity.

This may be an excellent strategy – let Microsoft and others build the visibility and then jump in with both feet once that visibility reaches critical mass. The risk of course is that if Microsoft builds a large and rich ecosystem with a deep development community that provides significant value to the end consumer, it could put Google at risk as a distant follower.

But maybe Google doesn’t really care. Clearly the market for Android is far more massive and potentially more lucrative for Google and let us not for get Chrome as well. Google has a lot on their plate right now and despite a staff of thousands, there is only so much they can focus on. That may leave many who are betting on Google to shake-up the healthcare sector to wait a little longer.

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