Today, October 4, Microsoft unveiled its long-awaited electronic health records system, Health Vault.

In a white paper called Concepts of the Health Data Vault, the author discusses the value of an individual’s “health data bitstream.” The author goes on to say that,

The value of this bitstream is based on its organization and communication within an individual’s context. This value is not necessarily reflected in specific dollars and cents savings, but rather in the individual’s health, trust in the healthcare system, and community. It has the potential to radically shift the balance of power in today’s health care system.”

This is not a representative from Microsoft talking; it was written by Tom Munnecke when he worked with SAIC alongside the Veterans Health Administration…in 1999.

During his long career, Tom was hands-on involved with two of the world’s largest hospital information systems: the VA’s program that we now know as VistA, and with the Department of Defense’s Composite Health Care System.

He knows what he’s talking about. He’s also one of the Good Guys. He’s spending this next part of his career to do what his blog calls, “the simplest thing I can do to have maximum uplift for humanity.”

As Microsoft continues down the path of developing, marketing, and operating Health Vault, the company would be wise to follow some of Tom’s tenets developed in his 1999 paper:

  • Trust
  • Owner controls
  • The patient at the center
  • Knowledge access
  • Discussions in the collaborative space.

Kudos to the company for giving privacy a front-burner spot in today’s presentation and toward the top of the Health Vault. The project even received a quasi-endorsement from Dr. Deborah Peel, the founder of the consumer advocacy group Patient Privacy Rights.

Peter Neupert, the head of Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group, told the press today that, “To make a difference in health care, it is going to take time and scale. And Microsoft has both.”

Time and scale, indeed. But I hope they also stay true to Tom’s tenets. That would make some difference indeed.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: After forecasting and refining the S-curve of personal health record adoption for the past 12 years, I welcome this development. Microsoft, with prodigious “time and scale,” is positioned to take a leadership position in personal health records. Additional health records projects will come on line in the next 12-18 months from the likes of Google, Revolution Health, and the Dossia project, among others. Which will consumers use? Will one emerge as a standard in the way Microsoft drove the PC market? Trust will be the killer app. Tom Munnecke has some insights into this from his 1999 paper: “Individuals must feel that they can provide information…as part of a trusted community of interest.” That trust must be earned, and that is the wild card that will play out as consumers pick and choose among the growing array of personal health records systems.