While Apple recently debuted features to bring personal health records and protected health information to its mobile devices, Microsoft shuttered HealthVault in favor of focusing on AI-powered healthcare advances

As clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups know, lab testing data comprise more than 70% of the average patient’s health record. Thus, creating a universal platform on which consumers can share or review health information and medical histories with caregivers is a critical, yet elusive goal for most major tech companies, including tech giants Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL)  and Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT).

Apple has big plans for patient health records and is working to bring protected health information (PHI) and healthcare advice to iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch. Meanwhile, Microsoft is reducing its footprint in the mobile device healthcare market. Instead, it appears to be banking on its Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform. How these two diverging paths play out could have ramifications for the pathology and clinical laboratory industries.

HealthVault Insights versus AI versus Apple Health Mobile Apps

Launched in February 2017, Microsoft’s HealthVault Insights combined machine learning and AI with patients’ PHI and mobile activity tracking. The intent was to create an accessible, interactive platform for patients to monitor important health trends.

However, as of January 2018, Microsoft pulled the mobile app from Android, iOS, and Windows App stores. While summary information that draws on previously collected data is still available from the HealthVault website, new data and detailed insights are no longer available.

“We launched HealthVault Insights as a research project … with the goal of helping patients generate new insights about their health,” states Microsoft’s HealthVault Insights website. “Since then, we’ve learned a lot about how machine learning can be used to increase patient engagement and are now applying that knowledge to other projects.”

According to ZDNet, the closing of HealthVault Insights does not impact the Microsoft Health platform or the HealthVault patient-records system.

However, Microsoft’s shuttering of HealthVault Insights, and Google’s shuttering its Google Health platform in 2012, does seem to make Apple the last major tech company developing apps target at healthcare consumers designed to help them exchange private health information with caregivers through mobile devices. Dark Daily reported on Apple’s update earlier this year. (See, “Apple’s Update of Its Mobile Health App Consolidates Data from Multiple EHRs and Makes It Easier to Push Clinical Laboratory Data to Patients,” March 21, 2018.)

AI Will ‘Dramatically Transform Healthcare’

Shuttering HealthVault highlighted Microsoft’s shift away from consumer-facing health efforts and toward assisting medical laboratories, physicians, and research groups discover and implement treatments driving modern personalized medicine.

In a Microsoft blog post, Peter Lee, Corporate VP of Microsoft Healthcare, stated that Microsoft hopes its Healthcare NeXT platform will “dramatically transform healthcare, will deeply integrate Greenfield research and health technology product development, as well as establish a new model at Microsoft for strategic health industry partnerships.”

HealthVault Insights was one of several projects in Microsoft’s Healthcare NeXT initiative. Run by Microsoft’s AI and Research Group and partnering with major healthcare and research facilities across the country, other projects in the Healthcare NeXT initiative include:

Speaking with Business Insider, Lee noted that healthcare is becoming a “very large business” for Microsoft. “We don’t talk publicly about the dollars, but it’s large,” he concluded.

Microsoft’s EmpowerMD website states the eventual goal is to use the system to connect conversations with the growing trove of healthcare data available. “Our long-term vision is a learning system that incorporates data from longitudinal medical records, medical devices, genomics, population health, research papers, and more.”

AI a ‘Sleeping Giant for Healthcare’

“AI can be viewed as a sleeping giant for healthcare,” Eric Horvitz, PhD, Director of Microsoft Research Labs, told Nasdaq, when discussing Microsoft’s view of technology and healthcare. “AI methods show promise for multiple roles in healthcare. [This includes] inferring and alerting about hidden risks of potential adverse outcomes, selectively guiding attention, care, and interventional programs where [they are] most needed and reducing errors in hospitals.”

One such project involves a strategic partnership with the University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC), which is a “$13-billion Pittsburgh-based system, comprising more than 25 hospitals, a three-million-member health plan, and 3,600 physicians, [that] will be a core partner in our efforts to improve healthcare delivery through a series of projects, beginning with a focus on transforming clinician empowerment and productivity,” according to Microsoft.

“Despite UPMC’s efforts to stay on the leading edge of technology, too often our clinicians and patients feel as though they’re serving the technology rather than the other way around. With Microsoft, we have a shared vision of empowering clinicians by reducing the burden of electronic paperwork and allowing the doctor to focus on the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” Steven D. Shapiro, MD (above), Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of UPMC and President of UPMC’s Health Services division, stated in the Microsoft blog. [Photo copyright: University of Pittsburg Medical Center.]

Today, patients can directly interact with their PHI to analyze trends and take a proactive role in their own healthcare, while researchers tap into the computational power of Cloud computing and correlate data across vast sources using AI. Both trends highlight how technology continues to play a critical role in improving access to healthcare. And how tech researchers continue to develop more efficient and effective treatments.

Medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups may soon contribute health information to databases that one day will power AI systems. These trends highlight opportunities to both educate physicians on the tools available to utilize patient health data in an effective manner, and on new platforms that clinical laboratories could use to further streamline operations, reduce costs, and boost efficiency.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

How Microsoft Is Using Advanced Technology in Healthcare

Microsoft Scrapping Personal Health Data App-Based Research Project

An Update on HealthVault Insights

How Microsoft’s Top Scientists Have Built a Big Business in Hacking Healthcare and Helped a Lot of People Along the Way

Microsoft Abandons Its Own HealthVault App: Is This Part of Something Larger?

Here’s How Microsoft Is Investing in AI

Microsoft Rolls Out More AI-Infused Healthcare Services, Software

Microsoft and Partners Combine the Cloud, AI, Research and Industry Expertise to Focus on Transforming Health Care

In Healthcare Push, Microsoft Launches Genomics Service on Azure Cloud

Apple’s Update of Its Mobile Health App Consolidates Data from Multiple EHRs and Makes It Easier to Push Clinical Laboratory Data to Patients