And Now for a Little Usability

It took a lot of people coordinating a whole bunch of different efforts to get the first release of HealthVault out the door. On top of the core platform, we were creating an SDK and developer experience, integrating with the LiveID system, building a desktop application, establishing a new driver model for devices, buiding a new search application (and integrating it into Live Search), crafting an effective privacy policy together with consumer advocates, and working with dozens of external partners to help create their own applications. Just another day at the office.

It was a huge effort, and we did a bunch of things right -- but all those parallel efforts had one big downside. Our consumer experience was fractured and in many ways downright unusable for all but the most motivated users. For example, creating an account was a tedious journey through up to eleven pages, with no consistent branding or explanation of where you were in the process.

I am super-excited to say that we've just released an update to HealthVault that really starts us down a path to correct some of these issues. Still lots to do before we're satisfied with where we are, but my hat is off to Mike, Tien and all the rest of the Shell team that has been focused on this over the last few months.

That eleven-page signup? Down to five -- and all five share common branding elements and a consistent approach to partner co-branding to help folks understand what is happening and where they are.

The "application auth" experience -- where a user authorizes an application to work with HealthVault data -- has gone from an impenetrable block of bold run-on-sentence craziness to a crisp table of requirements. Even better, users can quickly and easily see exactly why an application needs each type of information.

We've made a bunch of other usability-driven tweaks and fixes as well. We'll continue to push on this into the Summer. Some great new stuff is on tap for Connection Center and the way folks discover and navigate in and between HealthVault applications... can't wait for the next wave.

Digital Signatures

In addition to the usability work, this release includes some great new features that continue to deepen and enrich the set of tools available to HealthVault users and partners.

One of the things we heard from doctors was that they really wanted a way to verify the "pedigree" of HealthVault data -- something that could help them make a judgment about the accuracy of information they receive. Other systems have tried to address this need by limiting users' ability to alter or delete information in their record -- but this was a non-starter for us. Remember principle #1 -- these records are controlled by the consumer -- not Microsoft, not the doctor, just the consumer.

I love the solution we came up with. With our new release, a partner adding data to HealthVault can "sign" it using a digital certificate owned by the source provider. For example, Overlake Hospital here in Bellevue could obtain a digital certificate from a company like Verisign and use it to "sign" all data they send to HealthVault. When a primary care doctor receives that information, she can verify that the signature is valid, and can make a trust judgment based on a strong assurance that the data did indeed originate at Overlake and has not been altered in any way.

No control is taken away from the consumer here -- they can change the data -- but if they do, the signature will "break" and no longer validate. So we get the best of both worlds ... consumers of HealthVault data have a powerful new tool to verify the source of information, without any impact to our fundamental principle of consumer control. Bing!

But wait, there's more!

We've also now gotten to the finish line with direct-to-clinical, so you can expect to start seeing partners integrating along the lines of the demos at in the very near future.

We've made a number of new "vocabularies" such as the FDA Nutrition database and RxNorm drug codes available for use by partner applications, and exposed these through a new JSON interface that makes it super-easy for partners to create "word wheel" style entry forms for easier data entry.

Custodians can now mark individual HealthVault items as "private" -- which makes them visible only to other custodians of the record. This really allows people to fine-tune the way their data is shared, even beyond our existing type-based mechanisms.

There's more, but time to take a breath. Suffice to say it's a great release, and we're really excited to have it out there. As I've grown fond of saying... one more turn of the crank.