Microsoft in Your Medicine Cabinet

If Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) were making the announcement, we'd probably hear the hallelujah chorus. But Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) early effort to compile, protect, and unify health records in one place is likely to draw plenty of criticism.

I don't blame Mr. Softy for trying to get into this biz. After all, comprehensive health-care records are currently about as easy to access as Dick Cheney's bunker -- whether you're a patient, doctor, or an insurance company. That's because they're spread out over a variety of locations in a variety of forms -- from computerized records of the kind offered by the likes of Quality Systems (Nasdaq: QSII  ) , McKesson (NYSE: MCK  ) , Eclypsis (Nasdaq: ECLP  ) , or Cerner (Nasdaq: CERN  ) , back through illegible scrawls on slips of paper and maybe even in cuneiform.

If you think that doesn't matter, imagine getting hit by a car, tossed into a ditch, and picked up by an ambulance in some far-away place. Would you rather the folks taking care of you take a guess as to what your medical history is before plugging you full of drugs and devices, or would you rather they know, because they were able to access your data in a centralized location? Sign me up for the latter, please.

But is Microsoft's HealthVault the answer? Not yet. Currently, it's a consumer-oriented, encrypted database that lets users store health information and share it with those they wish. Microsoft hopes the site will become a platform for developers to create Web-enabled applications such as prescription reminders. Early partnerships with medical and sport monitoring device makers, such as blood sugar monitors from Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) or heart-rate monitors from Polar, allow for the collection and storage of precise data and provide a hint of what could come further down the pike.

It looks like a decent start. Someone's got to lead the charge, and Microsoft's deep pockets and extended reach can give it enough heft to get the process moving. But that's likely to be the problem as well. We've already seen what government regulators, from the European Union, to the U.S. Feds, to individual states, think of Microsoft's gaining market share in any space. Consumers may balk, too. There's little evidence that the majority of them think there's anything to be gained by collecting their health profile in one spot. Expect a pushback here as well.

More Foolishness on computerized health care:


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