Here's yet another reason to be skeptical about PHRs

Regular readers know about my skepticism toward personal health records. You're probably also aware that I have been critical of media coverage touting Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault as the clear industry leaders in this category. They're not. They're simply early-stage products from two huge, recognizable companies. I don't know if anyone has any hard numbers on usage, or if they're just embarrassed to admit that PHRs haven't caught on with the public yet.

Remember the incident last spring with "ePatient Dave" deBronkart? The cancer survivor discovered some inaccurate data in his Google Health record, which had been populated with billing claims from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Really inaccurate data. Like information that his kidney cancer had spread to either his lungs or spine. And that he had an aortic aneurysm. Serious stuff, and all of it false.

In the wake of that discovery, Google Health product manager Dr. Roni Zeiger came out and said that Google would stop importing claims data into Google Health records until accuracy improved. It was the right thing to do, and, in my humble opinion, the first time Google had demonstrated anything other than arrogance toward the healthcare industry. Google Health has kept a rather low profile ever since.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to make the occasional announcement about new HealthVault partnerships, without a whole lot a fanfare. Yet, the media eat it up, as if this platform will singlehandedly fix healthcare. How carefully are the vendors themselves treading? This week, Premera Blue Cross, right in the backyard of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, announced that it would partner with Microsoft itself to deliver electronic claims history to Microsoft employees via HealthVault.

"Premera Blue Cross today announced an important collaboration with Microsoft aimed at providing Microsoft employees with integrated, personal health records. Premera is combining its data and expertise with Microsoft's technology to provide the company's employees with greater visibility to their spending and healthcare claims through a connection to Microsoft HealthVault--a personal health application platform available to consumers," read the Jan. 18 press release.

HealthVault launched in October 2007. Only now is someone putting data into HealthVault for Microsoft's own employees. And it's claims data, the same kind of information that cause Google to slow down last year. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture? - Neil