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Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I signed on to Microsoft’s HealthVault yesterday just to learn what exchange of sensitive data was involved. From what I learned, it is the most aggressive effort yet to profile your medical history. In the first place, security was very good in establishing my “Windows Live ID” account, which HealthVault uses to authenticate you are who you say you are. I found out that a password I have been using for years is “weak,” so I tweaked it a bit with information from MS, and I was in. If you have never tested the strength of your password(s), I suggest you go to this site to see how strong the one you are using is. From there it was necessary to tell HV about myself, which included in the required fields: name, e-mail address, country lived in, zip code, date-of-birth and gender. Later they ask for your middle name, telephone number, postal address, ethnicity, and what language you speak, although this is not necessary to complete your membership. There is a wide variety of selections that help you through the signing up process and then to catalog your personal health data from “Getting Started” to “Help.” Then there are sections for your “Health Records,” “Health Details,” and “Account Profile.” Under these heading you list your health information, documents, how you want the information shared, health programs in which you are involved, your health history and your personal profile. No requirements that I can see that would be unacceptable to the privacy conscious individual, that is, until you willingly give up your medical history. Or, as Microsoft has indicated the direction they expect the program to proceed, let your doctor(s) enter your private medical information. OK. Either I input it or my doctor provides the data. How safe is it really going to be? MS says the medical records will be encrypted, but does not say at what level. After considerable effort to find a way to pose this question to HealthVault, I finally found the location, but only after searching several links. They promise reasonably fast reaction, so I will let you know when I know. In the meantime, Kachina Dunn, Ed. In Chief of ITBusinessEdge questions whether consumers will let their distrust of Microsoft’s security record keep them away from the tool. She does feel that the fact that HealthVault is housed in a provider outside the healthcare industry is a plus, and I agree based on their track record with breaches. (See earlier post on MSHV) HV is the brainchild of Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, who in 2000 described his grand vision, which wasn’t particularly receptive to the industry, reports the Economist. In the article a MS employee explains the targeted search method which relies on the “vertical” approach to get at more relevant results. It would outshine the strategies of Google and Yahoo by examining all the records of the HV database, while at the same time keeping tabs on members past queries. And therein lays the problem, according to Sean Nolan, the MS employee, since Microsoft is selling the program based on enforcing strict privacy rules. If they do that, says Nolan, this “would preclude such data mining.”

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