Microsoft HealthVault Makes Pitch to Hospitals, Tries to Crack Tough Nut of Health-IT Adoption

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goals of “meaningful use,” the long-awaited standards, yet to be established by the U.S. government, for offering incentives to doctors and hospitals to make electronic health records available to patients. Despite the continuing uncertainty—the incentives might not be offered until this fall, or later—Microsoft has to move forward. “We know where we’ll fit,” Cerino says. “You’ve got to get proactive.”

Indeed, the new product says a lot about Microsoft’s broader health-IT strategy—and how it plans to reach consumers (patients) through their doctors. Cerino says the biggest challenge for HealthVault is “how we get consumers first of all to realize there’s an alternative way to do things.” He adds, “They do own this information, and they need to take charge of their health. They think their doctor owns the data. That keeps me awake at night.” Despite the obvious importance of health, he says, “we as consumers don’t have enough time” to manage our own health records. Cerino thinks that means technologists “haven’t made it easy enough.”

So how to make progress? “Consumers listen to their physicians,” Cerino says. As hospitals start to use Community Connect, physicians will say, ‘The relationship I’ll have with you is different.’” That means getting health information to patients faster using secure messaging, and having their records available wherever they go, he says.

Before joining Microsoft’s HealthVault effort, Cerino came from the worlds of online banking and travel. So I wondered if he thinks consumers will eventually adopt electronic health records as fast as they switched over in travel and banking. Maybe not, he says, but “we’re starting to climb that curve on growth. Everything seems to be moving in the same direction for the first time in a long while.”

And to that end, Cerino says, Microsoft is trying to understand how health IT will be adopted in a way that goes far beyond the typical thinking in the tech sector—for example, whether it’s a “consumer” or “enterprise” play. It’s both. Meanwhile, Microsoft is also trying to promote an open software platform that partners and outside developers can build on, so as to create another one of its vaunted software “ecosystems,” as already exists around its popular products like Windows, Office, SharePoint, and Exchange. “We’re really trying to surround it from all fronts,” he says.

Lastly, I asked Cerino what personally drove him to tackle the difficult health-IT sector. After all, maybe the field is just too fraught with conflicting agendas to take off anytime soon and become much of a business for Microsoft or its competitors. “I got two good hits,” he says, referring to banking and travel. “I’m going to go for a third in healthcare. It’s more complex , it’s harder, there are a lot of differing incentives. I wanted to take a harder swing.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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