Getting Started

First off, who am I, and what am I doing here.

My name is Sean. I'm thirty-eight years old, weigh more than I should, have a remarkable family, try to visit Disney theme parks at least twice a year, tend to vote Libertarian, and cried (just a little) when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. I'm also the Chief Architect for HealthVault -- a concept and promise that brought me back to Microsoft and has me more excited than I've been in a very long time.

I'm excited because I get to be part of something I really -- really! -- believe is going to improve people's lives. Don't get me wrong -- it's going to take time, and along the way we and others will inevitably make mistakes. But the core ideas just make sense:

  • Empower individuals with tools to help themselves and their families get and stay healthy...
  • In an environment that makes sharing simple while still respecting privacy... 
  • Connected to the providers and caregivers they trust... and 
  • Fostering an ecosystem of innovators contributing their unique expertise to help real people.

Kind of a mouthful, but each of those points is important to the overall story. HealthVault to me is that most wonderful kind of innovation that shows that hard problems don't have to be a zero-sum game. It cuts across political ideology and creates new ways to address our healthcare challenges. It respects and empowers individuals, and it invites domain experts with great ideas to bring them to market more quickly and efficiently.

OK ... but what is it really?

Let me please start by saying -- NOT A PHR! "Personal Health Records" have been around for a long time, but few have really gotten any traction in the market. I believe that there are lots of reasons for this -- but the biggest is that people just don't want or need a new electronic filing cabinet. When all you can do is manually maintain lists of information, well, tools like Excel and frankly pen and paper do a pretty acceptable job, thank you very much. PHRs provided by an insurance plan or provider may provide some relief to the challenges of keeping information up to date, but even then -- what do you do with that information? Can you easily share it with your family, or with the other doctors you visit? Can you share it with other companies, coaches or caregivers that might give you second opinions or new programs to stay healthier? And for that matter -- if you decide to change jobs, doctors or insurance companies, what happens to all the information you've collected in their "tethered" systems?

HealthVault isn't really an application at all -- it's an enabling technology that provides services "behind the scenes" that power a whole bunch of applications, some created by Microsoft but most created by others.

It's useful to compare us to PayPal, which provides services that allow other applications to accept payments for their goods and services. I rarely visit, unless I want to perform an administrative task like checking my balance or making sure my account hasn't been compromised. Instead, I visit web sites where I'd like to buy things, and use PayPal as a trusted way to pay without having to surrender my credit card numbers to every site on the web.

HealthVault works in much the same way, but for personal health information instead of payments. Our users rarely visit -- instead they use HealthVault-powered applications like the American Heart Association's Blood Pressure Management Center, which rely on HealthVault to provide authorization services, safe and secure storage for health data, and privacy safeguards. Most importantly, information stored in HealthVault can be reused and shared across many different applications. For example, heart rate and blood pressure readings I collect at home with my HealthVault-compatible Polar watch and Omron monitor can be charted in the AHA application, made available to my personal trainer at, and shared with my primary care doctor through connectors like the one provided by Kryptiq's ConnectIQ

This last bit about sharing with providers is super-important. Forward-looking physicians are already making plans to use HealthVault to make office visits more productive and to easily stay connected with patients between visits -- a shift from reactive to proactive medicine that could dramatically improve outcomes and costs, especially for individuals suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes.

There's way too much to say about HealthVault to capture here in a few paragraphs. I'd encourage you to read more -- our virtual pressroom has a boatload of information, and if you're interested in kicking the tires for your own applications, it's easy to download our SDK and get started right away playing with our sample applications. But what I hope you'll take away right now is a promise of fantastic possibilities: from simple conveniences like never again having to fill out that crazy "intake" form at the doctor's office, to deeply transformational breakthroughs like detecting dangerous changes in weight or blood pressure before they result in a trip to the emergency room. I am a believer, and can barely sit still as I watch these promises get closer and closer to reality.

My goal with this blog is to get you -- individuals, industry partners, doctors and nurses, and basement coders -- as excited about HealthVault as I am. I'll introduce you to the great applications that are being built on HealthVault, gush about creative ideas I've found that maybe need a champion to get to the next level, and even share coding tips and tricks that make it easier to turn those ideas into real HealthVault applications.

Hopefully, I'll inspire a few of you to join us as we try to make the world a little better. It is, frankly, a pretty awesome way to pass the time.

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