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Internet-Based Initiatives Aim To Improve Consumer Health Care Knowledge

Armen Hareyan's picture

Microsoft this fall and Google in 2008 likely will unveil consumer-oriented health care initiatives that will combine "Internet search tools, the vast resources of the Web and online personal health records," according to people familiar with the plans, the New York Times reports. A recent Harris poll found that people increasingly are using the Internet to find health care information and advice, with 52% of adults sometimes or frequently searching the Web for health information, compared with 29% of adults in 2001. If Microsoft's and Google's plans "gain momentum over time, that promises to accelerate a shift in power to consumers in health care, just as Internet technology has done in other industries," the Times reports.

A prototype of the Google Health welcome page states, "At Google, we feel patients should be in charge of their health information, and they should be able to grant their health care providers, family members or whomever they choose access to this information." A presentation of screen images from the prototype shows the Web site could include a "health profile" of medications, allergies and health conditions; a personal "health guide" for recommended treatments, drug interactions, and diet and exercise regimens; and directories of area physicians, among other features.

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Microsoft would not disclose the details of its plan, but people working with the company said the effort will include online resources as well as software that will help consumers find, retrieve and store personal health information on digital devices, including computers and cell phones. Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft's health solutions group, said, "We're building a broad consumer health platform, and we view this challenge as far bigger than a personal health record, which is just scratching the surface."

However, several obstacles exist, such as the need for partnerships and trust among insurers, health care providers and digital record keepers, as well as safeguards to protect patients' privacy. In addition, experts note that health care "is a field where policy, regulation and entrenched interests tend to slow the pace of change, and technology companies have a history of losing patience," according to the Times (Lohr, New York Times, 8/14).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.