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Warning sounded on Microsoft and Google's health records landgrab

Dr Ballmer will market you now

Two leading proponents of electronic health records have urged regulators and governments to wake up to Microsoft and Google's growing interest in storing medical information.

Dr Kenneth Mandl and Dr Isaac Kohane write in the New England Journal of Medicine that the entry of tech behemoths to the healthcare market will bring "seismic change".

Pooling vast amounts of sensitive patient information will have a huge impact on research and privacy that is not properly appreciated, they argue.

For example, Microsoft and Google's web-based patient data services aren't covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and don't want to be. A Microsoft health VP told The New York Times: "Philosophically and politically, I am skeptical of the concept of paternalism."

The Act places restrictions and demands checks on companies that hold and share medical data. It was passed in 1996, however, when lawmakers didn't consider that people might turn their most private information over to web advertising brokers.

Microsoft and Google both assert that their service will give people greater control over their own healthcare. It's already happening at pace at some big hospitals, Mandl and Kohane note. At New York Presbyterian, authorities are committed to allowing patients to transfer information to the Microsoft HealthVault.

The pair called on regulators to consider extending oversight to cover their rush into the market, but saw the potential for people to participate more in research. ®

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