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Sean Nolan, chief architect and general manager of Microsoft's Health Solutions Group, broke the news with palpable excitement in a blog post last Tuesday.
He was so excited, in fact, that he made the proclamation in bolded 14-point type:
We've gone mobile!
Nolan was talking about Microsoft HealthVault, the personal health record that – with the recent swirling headlines surrounding Google Health (mothballed moribund) – now looks to stand more or less unchallenged as the PHR of record.
And it's with that newfound confidence, apparently, that HealthVault has decided to break "free from the desktop"
As Nolan puts it: "It's become completely obvious that mobile devices are rapidly taking over as the primary way that folks communicate and compute in their daily lives."
As such, it was (past) time for the site to boldly go where so many have gone before: onto your smartphone and into your pocket.
One blogger called the step "long overdue." Wrote another: "After essentially leading the early years of the computer age Microsoft appears to be consistently playing catch-up."
But in fairness, even if it came a bit later than many expected, the updated application has some pretty interesting functionalities, helping put the power of managing their own health into patients' hands (literally).
That will be a boon for both patients and physicians, says Nolan, offering more wellness tools to people who want them, and helping save time by allowing folks to tell their docs about "that last tetanus shot, what year your knee surgery was, or how to spell hydrochlorothiazide."
First off, Microsoft has enabled outside developers to create standalone HealthVault apps. Right now availability is limited to Windows Phone 7, but will be enabled for Apple's iOS and Google Android in the coming weeks or months.
The mobile version of HealthVault also has capabilities that allows patient summaries in both CCR and CCD format to be reconciled – "enabling folks to easily create, for example, comprehensive medication and allergy lists that they can use in other settings," Nolan writes.
Perhaps most intriguing is HealthVault's addition of Facebook as an authentication tool.
"For many folks, Facebook is the Internet," Nolan reasons. Allowing users to sign into the PHR using their Facebook log-ins is a way of "acknowledging Facebook's central role in people's lives."
The move has raised some eyebrows. As one commenter wrote on ZDNet, "I'm really not comfortable with having this information correlated with my facebook userID…. The facebook ID equates to a facebook profile in which all of these things are public."
Indeed, the linking HIPAA-protected information with a site that's had more than its share of privacy complaints, may seem risky. (Or, as one wag put it, a "watershed moment in this era of oversharing.") But Nolan says not to worry. Obviously, HealthVault users should triple and quadruple check that their Facebook passwords are well-nigh impossible to decipher – as they should be doing anyway – and Microsoft also offers two-factor authentication for HealthVault for those who choose it.
Meanwhile, Nolan takes pains to emphasize that "this does NOT mean that HealthVault information will show up on your wall! Today, data only moves from Facebook to HealthVault, not the other way around."
(Which makes them more on top of things than some physicians, who have learned the hard way that PHI and Facebook just don't mix.)
Nolan does allow that there may be "great opportunities to create native Facebook applications that include HealthVault data," but he promises that "it is not happening now, and would only ever happen with explicit, separate user opt-in."
In the mean time, surely HealthVault would love to take advantage of the social connectivity spotlighted in Mobile Health Watch last week, in which groups like MeYou Health encourage users to connect with friends via Facebook and improve their wellness with with the help of "contagious vectors of healthcare behavior."
Mike Miliard, Managing Editor of Healthcare IT News, filling in for Eric Wicklund. Image via HealthVault.com.
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