As part of its push into four strategic vertical search segments, Microsoft has unveiled “HealthVault,” which aims to be part medical search engine, part repository of personal data and health information that can be selectively disclosed to doctors and other interested parties. Mary Jo Foley has considerable detail on how it will work. Of course, the big questions and issues revolve around privacy and security.
It’s pretty clear that more consumer medical records and personal health information will make their way online over time. The concept of a single repository of health information that consumers could use to manage and selectively share or disclose their personal health histories is good in theory but, right now, troubling in practice. Unscrupulous insurance carriers could seek to access and exploit such data to deny coverage or otherwise benefit themselves financially at the expense of consumers — literally and figuratively.
Tied in to the future success of sites like HealthVault is the political outcome of universal healthcare initiatives in the US. Why do I say this? If consumers have confidence that they will be guaranteed coverage and their records won’t be used against them, they’ll be more inclined to trust sites like HealthVault and disclose information on the Internet. Otherwise, consumers may be reluctant to fully participate. That wouldn’t stop HealthVault from being used for information discovery and research, however.
Jupiter reported previously that “71 percent of online consumers use search engines to find health-related information, but only 16 percent find the information they are looking for.”
The “health search” vertical is one that will become increasingly competitive because of consumer demand for health information and because of the advertising opportunity. Many billions of dollars are spent by pharmaceutical companies annually on traditional marketing and “gifts” to doctors.
Google has invested in “23andMe” , a startup that aims to help users “make sense of their own genetic information.” Meanwhile at Google itself, Adam Bosworth, who had been the point person for the long-anticipated Google Health, left the company. But, despite the setback, Google says the initiative is still moving forward. Postscript: Gary Price pointed out to me that some of the same services are available from Revolution Health.