Step into a medical office, and you’re faced with a paradox of modern medicine. Just beyond the receptionist’s desk are all sorts of cutting-edge medical technology. Computed tomography scanners. Electrocardiogram machines. Bone densitometers.
But as you approach that desk to check in, you take a trip back in time. There the receptionist hands you a clipboard of forms. For the umpteenth time you fill in your name, age, allergies, medical history, and the like. For all the medical breakthroughs created by technology, medical records remain an anachronism.
That’s changing as more companies vie to bring medical records into the Digital Age. Webmd Health Corp. (WBMD) and insurers such as Aetna (AET), United HealthCare (UNH), and WellPoint (WLP) have provided electronic medical records to policyholders for years. More recently large employers such as Wal-Mart (WMT) and AT&T (T) have been banding together to offer electronic health record systems. Revolution Health Group, led by former America Online (TWX) boss Steve Case, is trying to crack the market, as is search giant Google (GOOG).
Convincing patients that Microsoft can safeguard their data, though, won’t be easy. Dr. Deborah C. Peel, the founder and chair of the consumer advocacy group Patient Privacy Rights, says she believes Microsoft’s servers are about as secure as they get. That’s because “if they spill the data, it would completely ruin” Microsoft’s reputation, says Peel. “It would be like the Exxon Valdez.”