What Google’s exit means for Microsoft’s HealthVault

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 30, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsIf you ask Microsoft Health Group’s Chief Architect and General Manager Sean Nolan what the shuttering of Google Health means for HealthVault, he’ll tell you the “real and simple” answer to that question is “nothing.” Apart from an expected influx of new HealthVault users — those forced to abandon Google Health — Nolan said one change will be getting “used to being out there more or less on our own.” If you are having trouble detecting Microsoft’s tone, I’ll help you out: Triumphant.

Chilmark Research analyst John Moore isn’t so sure that the imminent absence of its biggest competitor will have zero effect on the day-to-day operations of HealthVault. The end of Google Health could very well bring a PHR quiet period that lasts for the next two years, Moore said.

“In the near term, without any serious competition for HealthVault, Microsoft can sit back a little bit and move some resources over to Amalga to get that tightened up,” Moore told MobiHealthNews in an interview. Moore describes Amalga as a toolset of healthcare IT services. Now that the pressure is off Microsoft on the HealthVault front, Moore believes the company will (and should) concentrate on making Amalga into a true product.

“It’s not necessarily speculation, it’s just logical,” Moore said. “[HealthVault] has been pulled out of R&D and pulled into the Health Solutions Group Microsoft’s Business Solutions (MBS) group. That means it needs to show more responsibility in terms of [profit and loss],” he said. “They are going to have to start selling stuff.”

And while Moore believes the company should focus on improving some of its other health IT products, that doesn’t mean lights out for HealthVault.

Microsoft won’t pull the plug on HealthVault — even though Moore believes Google Health had a higher adoption rate — because, among other reasons, shuttering HealthVault would prove too damaging to Microsoft’s partner relationships. (Microsoft inked deals with Telus in Canada and Siemens in Europe to license HealthVault.)

Backing off from HealthVault at this point would prove to be more problematic than keeping it going with minimal support.

Moore contends that while HealthVault isn’t perfect, Microsoft has managed to enhance the offering with most of the basic functionalities. Recent enhancements include mobile support, imaging management, and new options for authentication and log-in. HealthVault’s user interface is also greatly improved over earlier iterations — still not as easy to use as Google Health, Moore said — but it’s passable.

“Microsoft has done enough on HealthVault — it is developed to a level that it doesn’t take a lot of resources to keep it running,” Moore said.

Ultimately, Microsoft leverages HealthVault to sell its other health IT products and services. Google wasn’t ever going to invest at the level the medical establishment was requiring of them. Microsoft is willing to make that investment, Moore said. That’s partly because Google never leveraged Google Health the way Microsoft uses HealthVault. As Nolan wrote: “HealthVault is a critical component in [Microsoft's] broader strategy.”

Moore thinks the only reason Microsoft would pay attention to HealthVault in the coming months is if another true competitive offering is launched. He doesn’t believe that calls for the government or a foundation to step in and offer a personal health platform are likely to come to fruition.

“If, for example, a company like Cerner jumps in with a personal health platform play, then Microsoft may have to up its ante,” Moore said.

  • David Aylward

    Brian:  As long as there is effectively no interoperability, do you think there is any real PHR market?  Why put my data in a record which my various doctors, my hospitals, 9-1-1, and EMS don’t use or add to? 

  • MobiHealthNews

    David, I suspect most people feel that way. IDC says we’re only at 7 percent adoption of PHRs: “The leading reason for not using a PHR was not being exposed to the idea (51.9% in 2006 and 50.6% in 2011).” Most adoption came from PHRs provided by physicians/health plans. 

    As you point out, those aren’t necessarily interoperable with every care provider that might work with a patient.

    I think for now, ePatients will be the ones who provide the interoperability — when they are able — between their various care providers. 

    I also think that Google Health’s last pivot toward fitness/wellness tools would had been a great first move for the platform (they should have stayed away from the medical establishment altogether IMO). 

    Companies like RunKeeper who are sharing wellness/fitness data will create the platforms for the analysis and sharing of that kind of data. These consumer wellness companies already have millions of users engaged — no reason for a third party like Google to aggregate.