Thursday, October 02, 2008

Healthy Lunching on the Eastside

Seattle Lunch 2.0 was an interesting event this month. For one thing, it was on the Eastside, which always seems easier somehow than crossing the Big Water even though technically it takes me as long to get to Crossroads area as it does to get downtown.

For another, Microsoft was a great host - way too much food and all of it good (geeks like good food) and pretty cool pedometers to boot, complete with USB cables for automatic data transfer to your computer. The pedometers and the lunch were courtesy of the Health Solutions Group which has their new HealthVault platform currently in beta, so we got to hear quite a bit about HealthVault and their plans in that space going forward.

People attending the Lunch 2.0 event had lots of questions - good ones too - and most of them centered around privacy. Listening to the answers, I didn't once hear the sort of 'trust us' comments that always put me on edge.

Instead, what I heard was how closely they'd worked with privacy advocacy groups to make sure they were taking the right approach. And when you work with stakeholders closely enough that they can feel satisfied that you've done all the right things (or done them as well as you can, anyway in some cases), then that's probably the best possible outcome.

Although lots of us were interested in the platform and what it can do, I'm not sure everyone was convinced. I tend to go back and forth on privacy myself anyway so I came away not exactly sure at first. But look at what we've done with debit cards and credit cards over the years. I remember when privacy advocates yelled about the dangers of those in the beginning. My father's tongue-in-cheek approach at the time was to take advantage of his position as an airline pilot to use them all over the world and hope to confuse anyone who might be paying attention. These days, we don't give it a second thought and in fact, many of us operate nearly cash-less.

So - while I do care about privacy myself and certainly care that Microsoft and their partner vendors are taking appropriate precautions in that area, I also take a long view of the risks vs. what I get out of it. I figure it's not unlike my approach to being a first-time mother of an infant - once I heard that mothers of two babies tended to not wash pacifiers nearly so rigorously the second time around and in fact, tended to let the dog lick off the big hunks by the time they got to three or four babies, I jumped straight to the less-than-hyperclean approach with my baby.

And just what do we get out of it with HealthVault? Well, I like being able to upload and track all my new pedometer data, especially since these new pedometers are ever so much more accurate than they used to be. The HealthVault interface itself leaves quite a bit to be desired but once I remembered that it's the platform and the other services are the real interface, I didn't mind that part so much.

Trying to find the right service was a bit of a scavenger hunt. I checked out all the HealthVault-compatible currently available, trying to fine one that made the most sense for my needs. I'm not trying to lose weight and I don't have a particular condition like diabetes where I'm trying to track specific information, although there are services that are relevant for people who are.

Neither am I old enough or sick enough to be taking multiple medications such that I'd benefit from tracking prescriptions and how they interact. And while reasonably active, I'm not training for a big athletic event these days so those services weren't quite what I was looking for either. I also wanted something a bit more comprehensive than a service designed primarily to make health information available to appropriate parties in case of an emergency (ICE).

In the end, I decided that what I really wanted was an all-around tool for managing day-to-day healthcare information and healthcare records once electronic information sharing with my doctor and pharmacist becomes a bigger part of my life. Being able to do that for all the members of my family was on my wishlist too. HealthyCircles appears to meet all those needs quite nicely and, as an added bonus, it's also free so I signed up for that service and started testing it out.

Nearly a week later, I'm starting to enjoy having data to review and have a plan in place for digitizing all my paper health records so that I can keep all that information in one place and more readily accessible. I'm thinking that will make that part of our lives considerably easier - that much more so thanks to digital filing.

At some point, I'll probably want more devices that work with HealthVault. I'll shift to a scale that allows me to directly import data and the same with our blood pressure monitor but manual data entry is probably good enough for now. We already have a HealthVault-friendly Polar heart monitor so I just need to get that set up.

Of course, as often happens in such situations, the more I play with this stuff, the more my imagination kicks in and the more I want to be able to do with it. I've already sent probably 4-5 suggestions to the HealthyCircles people so hopefully they're watching their inbox!

Noticing the issues I have seen as a consumer and having worked with hospitals as clients in the past, how ridulously silo'd information still is these days, the HealthVault platform is likely to be a game-changer. One of the services already offered is appropriately titled NoMoreClipboard. I mean, how stupid is it that I should have to fill out the exact same information from one time to the next - sometimes even on the same day if I happen to be visiting two different doctors in one fell swoop? That alone is bound to give us back some important chunks of time and that is certainly worth a lot right there.

There is so much more around the corner in this space. I'm looking forward to watching it unfold.

What helps keep you healthy?