Connected Health: Bringing Patients and Physicians One Click Closer

Almost two years ago on this blog, I issued a call for ‘data liberation’ – emphasizing that the free flow of health data should be the foundation for realizing a future of secure, personalized, data driven medicine.  A year later, I discussed the concept again as we began to see the idea of ‘meaningful use’ take shape – with its focus on data exchange for the benefit of physicians and patients.  I see an increasing amount of activity that keeps me optimistic about us realizing this vision for ‘connected’ health. Of particular note are the folks at the Federal level (HHS and ONC) who are increasingly grounding their initiatives in the same concept of data liquidity.  See the re-post below of a blog I wrote for “Microsoft on the Issues” on this topic.

Health has been a huge focus for the federal government over the past year – specifically, how to expand access and drive value: improving care for the same or lower cost.

The Office of the National Coordinator within Health and Human Services (HHS) successfully spurred the industry to action last year with its Blue Button Initiative and worked with private sector organizations to drive the Direct Project. The Direct Project is focused on using e-mail as a secure way to share health information. Microsoft was an early participant in this project along with other companies such as Allscripts, MedPlus and VisionShare.

Today in Washington D.C. at an HHS press event, we announced that next week we will be launching new functionality that wires every Microsoft HealthVault account to use online encrypted patient e-mail based on Direct Project security protocols. To start with, we will enable physicians to transmit a copy of a patient’s clinical information to a new email address created within HealthVault. This information can be read or saved to a patient’s HealthVault account to build their personal health record – a holistic view of an individual’s health history.  In the future, we expect to make this functionality available to providers and to enable secure messaging for physician-to-physician consults and for transfer of patient records. 

At this point, most people recognize that software technology can be a catalyst for connecting the health ecosystem and transforming the ways we manage and deliver healthcare. Healthcare should be a data-driven industry, and software is designed to manage data in efficient, effective – and new – ways. Whether it’s a surgeon who needs access to a patient’s complete history, or a patient who is tracking her health and diet information to better manage a chronic condition – having the right information at the right time is critical to decision-making about health and healthcare – and it’s the key to delivering better value.

Historically, the data has been hard to get. Within the hospital, it is trapped in siloed systems that support different departments but aren’t connected. Within the physician’s office, it is trapped on paper, in hundreds upon hundreds of file folders. For the patient, their personal health data is often inaccessible – since the data is typically collected and stored at the point of care.

At Microsoft, we talk about the need for “data liquidity,” which translates into liberating data from across the health system so that individuals can start engaging with the information and using it in meaningful ways.

The Direct Project is designed to address part of the issue as an easy, secure way to exchange health information. The Direct Project specifies a simple, secure, scalable, standards-based way for participants to send encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet. This can be physician-to-physician; physician- to-public health authority; physician-to-patient; and on and on.

With the Direct protocols in place, patients can more actively engage with their providers in the ongoing management of their health. And these protocols enable improved care coordination across the health system. Physicians can more easily communicate with each other about patients, and patients can share their personal health information as they move across encounters with different healthcare providers. Putting patients at the center is the vision behind Microsoft HealthVault – so it has made sense for us to be an early participant in the Direct Project.

Step by step, we are liberating the data and bringing patients and their healthcare providers one click closer to the information they need to improve health and healthcare.