Microsoft has launched a new website, HealthVault, which allows users to electronically store all of their health records online.  The website, which is free and secure, allows patients to upload information such as blood pressure, weight loss, and prescription history.  According to Microsoft, the goal is to reduce “unnecessary confusion, paperwork, and delays.”  After uploading their information, patients may share the information with doctors or any other recipient they choose.


This new technology may help spur the use of electronic health records (EHRs).  EHRs are longitudinal electronic records of patient health information that can be transported from physician to physician more easily than the paper records can.  EHRs allow physicians to make quicker and more accurate diagnoses for the purposes of treatment because they place all the information a physician needs at his fingertips.  Additionally, EHRs eliminate the age-old problem of “physician’s handwriting,” which is traditionally illegible to the average patient. 


Unfortunately, hospitals and physicians have been slow to adopt EHRs, because they have been largely cost-prohibitive.  In a 2006 survey conducted by the Medical Research Institute, 729 health care providers stated that the lack of adequate funding was the most significant barrier to adopting EHRs.  It is estimated that the cost of purchasing and installing an EHR system will be about $32,000 per physician and maintenance costs will run about $1,200 per month.  Free sites, like HealthVault, may help to bypass this problem. 


Aetna has launched a similar site which, in addition to the patient logged data, automatically logs any health records that are billed to Aetna.


The question remains, however, as to how many patients will actually want to use this technology.  UnitedHealth has made web-based records available to their 24 million enrollees since 2005, however only about 7% of their consumers have taken advantage of the technology. 


The main concern with these online records is privacy.  Microsoft, aware of this concern, avows that the information posted online will be stored in a secure, locked down server, separate from their other servers. 


In addition to privacy concerns, the fact that this technology is new presents a serious information backlog problem.  Any older paper records would need to be somehow transcribed or scanned into the system.