Last Thursday, Microsoft launched a beta version of HealthVault, an online suite of services that includes a search engine, a digital data storage component, and a program that allows users to upload fitness and health information from personal-training devices.
"If you search for earache, you are just as likely to get information about a heavy metal band as you are to receive anything meaningful about how to treat an earache," said Steve Shihadeh, general manager sales, Microsoft Health Solutions Group. "So we felt there was plenty of room to innovate in the health search area."
For pharma companies, this is another venue to market drugs through search engine marketing. The way Microsoft explains it, since the search engine is targeted to health searches and results are health based, the chance that a consumer will eyeball an ad will be much higher then with a general search engine. "We are creating a very tailored, focused community of people who care about healthcare issues, and we believe that the ad opportunity on HealthVault is going to be very high," Shihadeh said.
The site seems to be drawing interest from pharma. Type sleep aid into the HealthVault search engine and the top ads under the Sponsored Sites category are branded Web pages for Ambien and Lunesta.
"We have had nondisclosure discussions with most of the top-10 pharma/biotech companies to communicate what we are doing, and there has been a lot of interest," Shihadeh said. "There are many good reasons why I, as a patient, would want to have a relationship with a company that is providing a treatment that I am on."
HealthVault is not just a fancy search engine. The site features a custom home page, similar to MyYahoo.com's, that allows registered users to input all of their health records into a central location.
Information can be added to a HealthVault account by scanning health documents, faxing them to the program, or uploading data through a USB device that works in conjunction with the online tool. In the future, partnering physicians will be able to feed health records directly to the program.
Shihadeh made it clear that the search engine does not search out patient data from within the personal HealthVault pages. All individual data is securely hidden behind SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption.