This being my first post to this blog, let me start off by introducing myself.

My name is Ali Emami and I’m a Technical Lead on the Microsoft HealthVault team. I joined the team about five years ago, when HealthVault was still a concept, and I’ve been writing features for it ever since. I’ve had a hand in building our connectivity interfaces, security and access controls, medical imaging, queuing infrastructure and event notifications to name a few of my focus areas. Most recently, I’ve been leading our integration of the Direct Project protocols as part of a nation-wide effort to, among other things, replace the fax machine within the healthcare industry. 

Moving forward, my focus will be on an area of HealthVault which I’m really passionate about and is central to our mission, the HealthVault application platform. Since you’re reading this blog, you may already be quite familiar with the HealthVault app platform. On the other hand, you may have heard that HealthVault is open and extensible but aren’t really sure what that means practically or how that’s beneficial to you as a developer or healthcare organization. Or perhaps, you aren’t aware that HealthVault is a whole lot more than http://www.healthvault.com. Allow me to take a step back and explain.

With HealthVault our philosophy is to help improve people’s lives by enabling them to better manage their health. We know we can accomplish this by getting data into patients’ hands and giving them the tools to manage and make sense of this data. This leads to more efficient management of health, safer families, and healthier people. We also know we can’t accomplish our goals alone. We count on industry partners and software developers to help us meet the breadth of real user needs by bringing their energy, creativity, and expertise to work on large industry challenges as well as fun personal health solutions. Hence, tied at the hip to our philosophy of improving people’s lives, is our dedication to a thriving eco-system of apps, devices, partners and communities. HealthVault then, is a platform where innovation in the healthcare space is enabled. Our part of the equation is to provide powerful tools and the place to enable this innovation. This is the HealthVault application platform.

You may be wondering, why write apps for HealthVault? There are plenty of reasons, and I’ve captured some of the broad benefits that resonate with me below. Note, I’ve also included how these areas benefit HealthVault users.

Privacy, Security, and Compliance

  • Benefit to users
    • A service from a world class organization that thinks of privacy and security of users’ information as the foundation upon which everything else is built.
    • Sean Nolan has written a lot about this. See his blog post “Who do you trust to defend your data”, or search for “security” on his blog to get a sense of how important this is for us here at Microsoft and the HealthVault team.
    • A flexible authentication system. Users can log-in with their Windows Live ID, Facebook, or OpenID.
    • Users are entirely in control of what data they share. They must explicitly authorize applications to access their data.
    • All actions on user data are audited and users have access to a full audit history of actions.
  • Benefit to apps
    • Privacy, security and compliance are core services of the HealthVault platform that your applications benefit from.
    • HealthVault has a HIPAA-compliant model for interacting with clinical systems, and we can sign BAAs when appropriate.
    • HealthVault is registered with the FDA as a Class 1 medical device. It’s much easier to take your applications live than starting from scratch.
    • You can leverage HealthVault’s user sign-in process for your app so you don’t have to write your own user authentication.
    • When transmitting data between organizations, you can leverage the HealthVault authorization model to architect your applications, rather than building your own authorization. Workflows that involve multiple organizations are simplified with the user granting explicit permission to use data with HealthVault’s authorization model.
    • You can architect your app to leverage the HealthVault auditing system rather than building your own. You can see exactly which application was the source of data and a full audit log is available for users.

Storage

  • Benefit to users
    • A single place for individuals and families to collect, store, share, and manage health data.
  • Benefit to apps
    • A great answer to the question on how to transfer data to patients in digital form. Even if they aren’t already HealthVault users. Meaningful use anyone?
    • The ability to provide your users with a long term home for their data.
    • Flexible storage options:
      • Offload data storage to HealthVault entirely. When the user signs in, you can read data from the user’s HealthVault record and use the data within your app.
      • Hybrid. Data is stored partially in HealthVault, and partially in your system, requiring user-initiated or automatic synchronization.
        • One-time read of data from HealthVault
        • One-time export of data to HealthVault
        • Continual synchronization of data between HealthVault and your storage system.

Flexible and Interoperable Data Type System

  • Benefit to users
    • Store data once, and leverage it in new ways as capabilities/apps are introduced.
    • Easier management of health data. See for instance iTriage coupled with Walgreens and CVS integration.
  • Benefit to apps
    • Interoperability of data between apps and organizations.
    • Apps can leverage data that was created by other apps.
    • Low-barrier to entry for developers. If your application is not a rich source of data already, you can still provide value to users in your app by focusing on the data consumption side. See for instance iTriage coupled with Walgreens and CVS integration.
    • A rich data type system that supports industry standards like CCR and DICOM where standards exist, and a robust data type design process for situation where there are no standards.

Vendor neutral

  • Benefit to users
    • A lifelong health record owned and controlled by users.
  • Benefit to apps
    • HealthVault isn’t tied to a particular healthcare provider, health system, web app, device or technology. Anyone can innovate and benefit from the eco-system.
    • We interoperate with apps running on numerous platforms. Some of them include Windows/.NET, Java, Windows Phone 7, iPhone, Android. HealthVault is an XML-over-HTTP web service, so it’s easy to hook up from pretty much any modern development platform.
    • HealthVault is as much a place for big industry organizations to connect, as it is a place for individual developers to innovate. Nothing gets us more excited here than awesome applications that really make a difference in people’s lives. There’s so much to innovate on in this space and the enabling technology is always getting better.

Evolving Platform

  • Benefit to users
    • New capabilities and apps are constantly introduced that improve user’s lives.
  • Benefit to apps
    • A service that continually gets better with new features and applications.
    • Whenever we consider a new feature for HealthVault we ask if it’s something our development community can benefit from as well. We put a lot of effort into making sure our development partners have the necessary interfaces to implement their scenarios.
    • We’re always looking for capabilities to add.
    • We make regular updates to the HealthVault platform. We evaluate feature requests and where it makes sense we introduce them in the platform to benefit the eco-system. If you have specific requests feel free to send me a message.

By no means is the above an exhaustive list. There’s so much more to cover! You can refer to the HealthVault MSDN site and the HealthVault SDK for the full details of our development platform. To me it’s crystal clear that if you’re looking to build applications in the health domain that benefit users, HealthVault is the place to do it.

You’ll hear a lot more about the value you can get from HealthVault as a developer or health industry partner by following this blog. My goal is to help educate you on existing HealthVault features as well as some of our newer initiatives. I’ll be providing sample code and how-to guides on topics of interest. This could include everything from synchronizing data with HealthVault, to leveraging HealthVault within other Microsoft products like Windows Azure and Microsoft Excel for data analysis. If there are particular topics of interest to you, just send me a message.

Additionally, we’ll be combining our other HealthVault blogs (FAQ, Devices, and Data Types) into this one to provide a single place to get information to you.

I’m really excited by this new focus and I’m looking forward to our journey together to improve health around the world.