Telus Corp. says the day will come soon when Canadians turn to the phone company not just for phone, Internet and television service, but also for their prescription drugs, medical research and health care histories.
The nation's No. 2 phone operator will announce an agreement today with Microsoft Corp. to develop a system that gives Canadians control of their health files through their own personal database.
The deal makes Telus the first partner to use the software giant's HealthVault product outside the U.S. and comes at a time when the push for electronic health records is finally gaining momentum, said Joe Natale, president of business solutions at Telus.
"The governments are in a situation where health care costs are spiralling to a point where, without investment in technology and [electronic]health records, you actually can't solve the problem of health care. You can't crack the code on health care."
Numerous efforts are already under way in Canada to digitize health records, but observers say this newest partnership could provide critical momentum to drive the issue into the mainstream marketplace.
"This is a good, complementary partnership," said Liz Boehm, principal analyst with Forrester Research in Boston.
Microsoft's HealthVault is a data-sharing platform that is able to collect information from a lot of different places, run a wide variety of third-party software and let people connect to it with many types of user interfaces. Telus, meanwhile, has a powerful distribution network, with high-speed fibre across the country and a subscriber base that includes more than 11 million Canadian customers.
With HealthVault, which Microsoft launched in the U.S. in October, 2007, the Redmond, Wash.-based company is revisiting a page from the playbook it used to launch the PC revolution. That spectacularly profitable plan involved getting third parties to legitimize Microsoft's technology platform by writing programs and building hardware for it. Early partners to sign on to HealthVault include the American Heart Association, Johnson & Johnson's LifeScan, the Mayo Clinic and dozens of hospitals.
There are dozens of big and small players offering electronic health record services in the United States. Microsoft's biggest rival, Google Inc., has launched its own service for helping consumers manage and store their health information online, called Google Health. The search giant recently teamed with IBM Corp. to bolster the service.
Microsoft looked at several other countries before deciding to make its first foreign deployment in Canada. Phil Sorgen, president of Microsoft Canada, cited Telus's strength in communications and health records as one key, as well as the country's early success with IT-based services such as telemedicine. "[This deal]enables the patient to start controlling their own health record and take responsibility for their health care," he said.
Telus spent $763-million in 2008 to purchase Emergis, a Montreal-based firm that handles health and financial data, including the transfer of patient records and the processing of loan applications.
Telus's interest in modernizing health care records comes as revenue from land-line and long-distance phone business declines and as profitability in wireless services begins to feel the squeeze from competition. The company says it is still working on the business model for HealthVault but that it could include subscriber fees.
Darren Entwistle, the firm's chief executive officer, has called health care the "biggest single industry opportunity that awaits Telus."
The company plans to roll out the new technology in the next six to 12 months.
TELUS CORP. (T)
Close: $29.90, up 20¢
By the numbers
How Canadians track their medical history:
55 per cent on paper
33 per cent electronically
25 per cent by memory
Electronic health records
Cost: $350 per Canadian
Financial savings: $6-billion to $7-billion a year
Without e-records today,
for every 1,000 ...
Hospital admissions, 75 people will suffer an adverse drug event;
Laboratory tests performed, up to 150 will be unnecessary;
Emergency room visits,
320 patients will have an information gap, causing longer stays.
Ipsos Reid, Telus, Canada Health InfowayReport Typo/Error
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