Microsoft offers ‘Health Vault’ for medical records

For the past few years, I have been using two primary methods for recording personal medical information. One method I have been using to keep track of my personal medical information and records is an 8 gig flash drive attached to my car key chain along with a large, red, aluminum, engraved medic alert logo. This flash drive has three redundant files in different formats (Word doc, RTF and PDF) containing my medical history, medical imagery, prescription list, emergency contact information, a copy of my health insurance card, allergy information, and other relevant important information that may be useful in a medical emergency. The reason for the triple redundancy using the different file formats is that regardless of the type of computer or operating system used by emergency medical personnel or a hospital emergency room, at least one of the formats will be readable when needed.

The other method I have been using for a few years is the much-vaunted Google Health (health.google.com), which I had previously written about in this column. I had been very satisfied with this free service offered by Google, where I tracked my vital signs, prescriptions, office visits, medical history, lab results and other medical information. While Google securely stored my information, I did set it up such that my family could access it in the event of an emergency and share the information with appropriate health-care professionals. When recently updating my Google Health information, I was chagrinned to find that Google is discontinuing this service. A large red banner on the Google Health Web site announced “An important update about Google Health,” followed by, “Google Health will be discontinued as a service. The product will continue service through January 1, 2012. After this date, you will no longer be able to view, enter or edit data stored in Google Health. You will be able to download the data you stored in Google Health, in a number of useful formats, through January 1, 2013.” Since I have been using Google Health, like the idea of secure online access to personal medical health records and had a lot of information stored there, I felt that it would be necessary to find an alternative resource.

Microsoft is promoting its free Health Vault service (www.healthvault.com) as a “trusted place for people to organize, store, and share health information online.” Microsoft is also explicitly targeting Google Health users with the statement, “As Google Health retires their service, you can transfer your information to Microsoft Health Vault.” Microsoft has pledged to keep the information secure and not to use it for the purposes of creating personalized ads or the marketing of services without the explicit permission of the user. For those using smart phones and other mobile devices, a mobile version of Health Vault is accessible, enhancing access to the system. Many of us consider our health history and records highly personal and might have totally valid concerns about the security of our online medical records. Microsoft Health Vault says, “It’s your Health Vault record. You decide what goes into it, who can see, use, and share your info, and which health tools have access to it.”

Some may wonder why secured online medical records are necessary, or even useful. As federal mandates for electronic medical records become more widely implemented, paper records will become somewhat obsolete. If anyone has ever gone to a new doctor or specialist, you are well aware of the often lengthy medical questionnaire that the new patient is required to fill out. While there may be a medical necessity for the physician to have that information, our personal memories are often inadequate and inaccurate when trying to recall complete and detailed information. Recently, in my primary care physician’s office, the nurse asked me when I had my most recent tetanus shot and some other vaccines, as I have used some other resources for periodic vaccines, now that flu shots and other vaccines are given in a multitude of convenient and non-traditional locations. I had a flu shot in the college gym, and another immunization at my local supermarket pharmacy! I had dutifully recorded the injections in my Google Health records and could rapidly produce accurate information using my smart phone to access my records.

Microsoft Health Vault offers a variety of free services to the consumer, as well as commercial services to health-care providers. Using Health Vault, my prescription information, refills, and changes can be automatically tracked, as several of the major drug store chains (CVS Caremark, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens) are interconnected with Health Vault. Since many of us may obtain prescriptions from multiple sources, Health Vault can help identify potentially dangerous drug interactions and side effects, as well as make your prescription information available to those of your choice. Health Vault offers a convenient method to share data about chronic conditions, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and other information with your doctor. It is important to remember that the individual has complete control over who can access the information, and what specific information each can access.

It is easy and free for an individual to open a Health Vault account. If you already have a Windows Live, Hotmail, Xbox or MSN account, you have immediate access to a Health Vault account, as they use the same username and password. Facebook users also have instant access, as Health Vault can be accessed via the users’ existing Facebook username and password by clicking on the Facebook icon in Health Vault. For users with none of these existing accounts, creating a new account is a simple process.

On the right margin of the main page is an icon for “Sharing.” This icon leads to a page where, “You control access to your health information. Use Sharing to decide which people or online health tools can access selected types of information in your Health Vault record.” Under the heading “Authorized people” is where the user can, “Let family members or others you trust view or update information in your Health Vault record.” This is where I have my wife and my adult children listed as approved family members, such that they can access my information in an emergency situation. The link to share information with your health-care provider allows the user to print selected information from Health Vault, utilize the online tools to prepare for an upcoming office visit or hospitalization, or to connect to physicians’ electronic medical records if their systems are compatible with Health Vault.

While there are a variety of lesser known companies trying to take up the slack in personal medical record keeping, especially with the upcoming demise of Google Health, Microsoft, with its scale and reputation, might become the primary provider of such services.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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