This is part of a series of posts about cutting-edge areas of innovation. The series is sponsored by Microsoft. Microsoft authors will participate, as will VentureBeat writers and outside experts.

Here’s a sobering thought: I can walk into any local car dealership and buy a $30,000 piece of merchandise, leaving nothing behind but my signature — but if I show up that same day at the hospital, unconscious after a collision in my new car, there’s not a soul in that emergency room who will know what medications I’m taking, what allergies I have or where my living will is stored.

Even the most partisan players in the debate over health care reform agree on two things. One, that this is crazy. And two, that technology can help. The good news is that, over the last few years, the tech industry has stepped up and is beginning to deliver solutions that will make a real difference.

One particularly promising class of solutions revolves around personal empowerment — platforms, tools and services that enable individuals to become active participants in their own care. For example, both Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health provide free, secure accounts where patients can organize their health information and easily share it with their doctors and nurses.


And these aren’t mere online “lock boxes” — they are connected platforms that technology companies can build out to create even more value. For example, blood glucose meters like LifeScan’s OneTouch (see below) can automatically upload readings to HealthVault, and from there they can be shared not only with doctors, but nutritionists and family members (based on user preferences, of course). And that same information can sync with services like MyVitalData to make sure the right information is there in the emergency room when it’s really needed.


For these innovations to matter, it’s critical that individuals are able to share their information freely and simply, so that it’s available where and when it’s needed. We’ve worked hard with HealthVault to deliver on this promise, reaching out to connect with hospitals, doctors, fax machines — even traditional competitors like our friends at Google Health.

People are ready for this new world. About 83 percent have searched for health care information on the web; 3.1 million Kaiser Permanente patients access their personalized health portal, with 163,000 visits per day and a 91.2 percent satisfaction rate. Health-focused social networking sites like PatientsLikeMe are redefining the way people live with chronic diseases. And HealthVault alone has hundreds of partners working to connect their solutions into this new “personal health universe.”

Additionally, the Obama administration recognizes the potential for health IT innovations to both reduce costs and improve patient care, and has begun to allocate significant government dollars to the effort. While it is unclear how the current health care reform efforts will impact the adoption of health IT in coming years, it is clear that innovations in the health IT industry will continue to play a role in modernizing and improving our medical system.

Here’s an overview of several technologies that will make a difference in coming months and years:

Microsoft HealthVault is a free and secure personal health application platform that allows people to collect, store and share their health information with family members and participating healthcare providers, as well as provides a choice of third-party applications and devices to help users manage things such as fitness, diet and health.

Google Health is a free, Web-based service that enables users to organize health information, gather medical records from doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies, and share information securely with a family member, doctors or caregivers.

LifeScan’s OneTouch family of products are blood glucose monitoring devices for people with diabetes, offering fast, accurate blood glucose testing along with 24-hour toll-free service and support.

MyVitalData Emergency Communication Gateway manages health information within a secure network of hospitals, first responders and disaster response organizations to ensure healthcare providers have your most up-to-date and critical information.

Sean Nolan is the chief architect and general manager of the Health Solutions Group at Microsoft, where he directs all aspects of product development and operations for the consumer health platform. His specific responsibilities include product definition and design, partner engagement and support, product execution, quality assurance, customer support, and ongoing operations.


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