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Microsoft offers transfer tool to Google Health users

Rather than shuttering its online medical records service like its rival, Microsoft creates a tool to let Google Health users move their data securely to its HealthVault.

For the seeming handful of people who signed up to use the soon-to-be-shuttered Google Health online medical records service, Microsoft has an answer: join its service.

Microsoft released a tool today that lets Google Health customers transfer their personal health information to a Microsoft HealthVault account. To protect patient privacy, the tool uses the Direct Project messaging protocols established by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT that authenticate and encrypt the data, sending it only to known, trusted recipients.

On June 24, Google announced plans to euthanize the three-year-old Google Health. The company said it will shut down the service on January 1, though users will have until January 1, 2013, to transfer their data out of the system before it gets deleted entirely.

The idea behind both Google Health and Microsoft's HealthVault is to create one repository for medical information so that doctors could track patient health and plan their care. It was also designed to ease appointment check-in and hospital registration. And it can help prevent dangerous prescription drug interactions by giving pharmacists relevant details of a patient's history.

Consumers, though, haven't taken to the services. Privacy is clearly a concern. What's more, the benefit isn't readily apparent. Physicians, who guide so much of medical care, haven't steered their patients to the services. Not enough hospitals connect to the services. And the more than 300 applications that connect to HealthVault--everything from tools to manage diabetes to software that tracks pregnancies--don't appear to have made it a major draw.

Microsoft's data transfer tool may be more marketing than a practical feature. Clearly, Google abandoned its health records service because it had few customers. And certainly many of those who tried the service likely kicked the tires rather than dove deep into it. And for those who did enter large amounts of health data, some may have chosen Google's product over Microsoft because of brand loyalty.

The transfer tool, though, does show that Microsoft intends to stick with its service, even in the face of Google's move away from Google Health. That may have less to do with any success with the project than it does with Microsoft's commitment to building out its health care technology business. Microsoft also offers Amalga, technology that gives health care systems the ability to centralize the vast pockets of digital information they collect. The four-year-old HealthVault is a piece of that broader business, which is why Microsoft seems likely to continue to support it.