Both Microsoft and Google have been racing to get in the business of providing personal health records to online customers, but it looks like Microsoft just took a big step forward. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, the software company announced a new partnership with Kaiser Permanente, the massive Northern California hospital and HMO nonprofit. The two companies will collaborate on a pilot project to assemble personal health records for Kaiser's 156,000 employees. If the plan works out the kinks by November, Kaiser hopes to offer the option of organizing and updating personal health records to its 8.7 million members -- a huge new market for Microsoft, and a blow to Google, which has no health-care partner anywhere near that size. Personal health records have been a new Holy Grail for the medical industry; farming responsibility for record-keeping to patients would substantially reduce skyrocketing operating costs, and patients could carry their records with them if they switched health-care providers.
Although the present fight is over partnerships with health-care providers, Greg Sterling at Search Engine Watch notes that eventually, the real competition will be over ordinary patients, who will ultimately control their own records and be free to switch from Microsoft to Google or vice-versa.