Aetna is becoming the first health insurer to team with Microsoft to give its customers an Internet-based vault for storing medical records...

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INDIANAPOLIS — Aetna is becoming the first health insurer to team with Microsoft to give its customers an Internet-based vault for storing medical records they can access even if they change jobs or leave their health plan.

Starting next month, Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna will allow some customers to transfer electronic personal health records to Microsoft’s HealthVault, a platform that lets care providers look at the information, if they have patient permission.

The vault will give the insurer’s customers “continuous access” to their claims information and anything the patient wants to add, like clinical data or past medical records, Aetna President Mark Bertolini said.

The insurer sees several advantages in the move, including improved communication with providers.

“We can avoid duplicate testing, we can avoid mistakes that occur as a result of not understanding the member’s complete condition,” he said. “Because we don’t have a national health information technology network, this will stand as a first-generation of that kind of capability.”

The announcement marks the latest step in a push by several companies into the storing and sharing of medical records.

Google opened a Web site earlier this year that allows people to store health information such as doctor, hospital and pharmacy records in one place. IBM and Duke University also have created a Web site that allows people to pay medical bills, schedule doctor appointments and store medical records, among other things.

Microsoft launched the free HealthVault Web site a year ago. About 40 companies currently allow customers to store information on it, a list that includes hospitals and CVS Caremark’s Minute Clinic. Aetna would be the first health benefits company to do so, according to Microsoft.

The customer has complete control over who looks at the data and what information they see, said Peter Neupert, vice president for Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group. He said doctors and providers, even Microsoft officials, will not be able to access the information unless they receive permission first from the patient.

The information also will be protected under the new “Connecting for Health” guidelines devised earlier this year by Microsoft, Google and others that wanted to set ground rules for keeping sensitive information private.

Experts have said that consumers are wary of the protection offered for electronic medical records, but Neupert said Microsoft is “very confident and vigilant about providing security for this data.”

Aetna makes electronic personal health records available to about 6 million customers, and the fee for that is part of their premium. But the insurer plans to charge nothing for the HealthVault transfer.