Microsoft has taken an early lead over Google with the launch of HealthVault yesterday. With both companies in a pitched battle to gain the upper hand in the consumer healthcare market, it is clear that Microsoft has won Round One.
But is it really fair to compare these two in the consumer healthcare market?
Yes and no.
Both want to attract the eyes of the consumers and each are pursuing a similar strategy in offering a medical-specific search engine. Google is building such functionality internally and their engine is currently in Beta. Microsoft acquired the young company, MedStory, who had an elegant solution that uses advanced algorithms to minimize Spam search results while also parsing such results into specific categories of relevance to a consumer inquiry. I’ll provide a more thorough product review of both HealthVault Search and the HealthVault Account in subsequent posts.
Going after consumers with a medical search solution makes a lot of sense as this is where consumers are today. The vast majority of consumer activity on the Web, as it pertains to health, is performing searches. Conservative estimates are that 20 million people perform some type of medical specific search each day and that is a lot of potential customers for those that will have their relevant products advertised along side a given search result.
Also, Microsoft and Google will be looking to that advertising revenue to support their respective efforts and subsequently offer their healthcare platforms for free to the consumer.
But this is where the similarity ends.
While I cannot fully comment on Google’s product plans beyond the Beta search engine, based on previous comments that they have made, it appears that they intend to create a Personal Health Record (PHR) for the consumer, what their former Healthcare leader, Adam Bosworth liked to refer to as a “Health URL.”
Microsoft, however, has gone in quite a different direction and one that I believe will better leverage their strengths and core competencies.
Rather than develop another PHR, as if there are not enough in the market already, Microsoft’s HealthVault is a platform that will in their words:
“… puts the consumer in control of their healthcare by creating a private, secure data storage and sharing platform that will enable seamless data exchange between hundreds of different health applications and devices.”
What this means is that Microsoft has no intention of creating a PHR, EMR, EHR or any other health record solution – a really critical distinction – which based on all the reports I’ve read to date on this launch almost everyone has gotten wrong.
Microsoft is providing a central, secure repository for consumers to put their personal health information. And that information could be any number of things, from daily glucose device measurements for a diabetic , to training data from an athlete’s heart-rate monitor, to the latest records from one’s physician, to claims data from their insurer. There are nearly unlimited possibilities.
Pretty cool when one really gets to thinking about it.
Sure, there are a lot of challenges here for Microsoft but in my call with them today they were very emphatic in stating that they are fully aware of the challenges moving forward and are in this for the long-term. Let’s hope so for we need someone like Microsoft to come into this market and begin shaking it up (and its already begun – see my previous Aetna post).
But with that commitment, Microsoft has a unique opportunity, and I would argue responsibility, to the market to further push for industry-wide, consistent privacy and security policies, open standards, and greater transparency of healthcare quality and pricing data, This is where Microsoft can make the most lasting impact on the market and ultimately lead to improved healthcare and better outcomes.