MS really seems to be exploring all areas of the technology market these days; the latest in a line of web-based ventures is a website for managing personal health and medical information, launched just today. From the consumer's point of view, Microsoft's HealthVault site is part filing cabinet, part library and part fax machine for an individual's or a family's medical records and notes. The free site can store medical histories, immunization and other records from doctors' offices and hospital visits, including data from devices like heart monitors. It is also tied to a health information search engine the software maker launched last month. Users can dole out access to different slices of their health data via e-mailed invitations to doctors, family members and other people as the need arises.
However, critics are worried that neither the technology nor U.S. law will protect patients' most confidential details. Although MS has tried to build in protections in HealthVault from the start, spelling out exactly what data is shared each time the user connects to a new application or gives someone new permission to see a record, the site isn't subject to many of HIPAA's rules or state medical privacy laws, because it's seen as the digital equivalent of patients asking doctors to fax them a copy of their records. And then comes the question of whether anybody will actually use the site. Dunbrack, of Health Industry Insights, said most people who have access to a way of managing their medical records online don't even know it exists. "Historically, personal health records have had really pretty abysmal track records," she said.