I spent three days last week at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) Spring Congress. I was there to present lessons learned from Michigan's $3.2M NIH Roadmap contract funded under the 2003 "Re-Engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise" Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in the Clinical Research Informatics track, but I spent a few of the sessions in the Personal Health Records (PHR) track.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of buzz in the PHR track about Google Health, and to a lesser degree, Microsoft HealthVault. Google Health was more prominent for several reasons, not all of which are enduringly pertinent: its public debut happened more recently; Google does not suffer from the Borg-like "Evil Empire" image from which Microsoft suffers; and Dr. Roni Zeiger, MD, Google Health Product Manager, was an eloquent and well-received speaker at one of the sessions.
That was Thursday. My presentations were on Friday right after lunch, so I was a bit distracted that morning and missed a couple of breakout sessions. After my time in the limelight, I spent a very inspiring hour talking with Bob DiLaura of Cleveland Clinic, during which we speculated about the future of PHRs. One assertion with which I believe we both agree is that the entry of these two major players is going to revolutionize the healthcare records "marketplace".
I put "marketplace" in quotes because in the USA a market implies exchange of value that can be represented in monetary terms. HealthVault and Google Health are free, and as FasterCures CEO Greg Simon said in one of the keynotes, "Free is the new money". Google and Microsoft will aim for volume, and monetization will come later. It's not terribly difficult to imagine a variety of ways huge volumes of consumer health records could be monetized without violating patient privacy. But there are a lot of red herrings in these waters. Let's look through the glass window in the bottom of the boat here and see what these red herrings look like.