Microsoft and Siemens have signed an agreement to licence Microsoft’s personal health record platform, HealthVault, in Germany.

Siemens will host all the stored health data in what the two companies describe as “security enhanced” data centres in Germany. Data will be transmitted over an encrypted connection over the Internet.

Microsoft launched HealthVault in the US in October 2007. It has promoted HealthVault as an online platform that will allow individuals to store their personal health data, import information from various medical devices, and decide who to share it with.

A number of US healthcare organisations have been working with the platform, including New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, which has linked it to Microsoft’s Amalga unified intelligence system.

Microsoft has also done a deal with Toronto-based telecoms firm Telus to take the platform to Canada as Telus Health Space. But the Siemens deal is the first of its kind in continental Europe and the UK.

Despite this, HealthVault hit the headlines in England last year when a row broke out over commercial companies ‘taking over’ personal health records.

The row was triggered by the opposition Conservative Party indicating that it might go down this route if it takes power at the forthcoming general election.

The party has since committed to giving every English citizen an online health record, without saying whether it will look to Microsoft, Google Health, other companies or the NHS’ own HealthSpace product to achieve this.

In a statement, Microsoft and Siemens said their vision was to “enable Germany citizens to connect to various systems run by physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and even fitness facilities for a comprehensive view of their personal health information.”

As a result of the deal, Siemens will be the exclusive operator of HealthVault in Germany and will market the platform to developers, application providers and device manufacturers, who will be encouraged to join the service and provide individuals with tools that they can use with it.

Microsoft has a long association with Siemens. The two companies first formed a healthcare development alliance in 1995, and later signed a strategic alliance to optimise Siemens’ health information applications on the Microsoft .NET enterprise technology platform.

“With the deployment of the HealthVault technology, Siemens contributes to the supply of affordable and personalise healthcare," said Frank Hauber, of Siemens IT Solutions and Services Germany.

"At the same time, Siemens IT Solutions and Services completes its e-health portfolio and expands the existing good relationship with Microsoft in the healthcare market."

The German government has been pursuing the development of a national e-health smart card that was intended to provide every German citizen with a card carrying personal data, medical history and insurance details.

The £1.5 billion project was supposed to have been completed by 2006, but has run into a number of problems, including opposition from medical groups, and is in use in just a handful of states.

The British Medical Journal recently reported that it had been put on holding pending a review of security and confidentiality. Smart cards are still being issued in trial areas, focusing on basic patient data and insurance details.

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