Home Getting Healthy With Google – Google Health Pilot Program

Getting Healthy With Google – Google Health Pilot Program

Google today announced a pilot program (read: closed beta) of their health records application. The program will be conducted at Cleveland Clinic hospital in Cleveland, Ohio and will include under 10,000 patients. The pilot program will run six to eight weeks with the eventual goal to roll the program out to a broader user base if the test is a success. While there are certainly upsides to having medical records stored in a single, patient-accessible location, there are also serious privacy concerns.

The Cleveland Clinic already uses an electronic records system called eCleveland Clinic MyChart for 100,000 of its patients. Those who opted into the Google pilot will have their records imported to a password-protected Google account. It isn’t exactly clear how Google Health will look from a patient standpoint, except that the system will store information about things like prescription info, allergies, and medical history.

One of the major upsides to having health information stored online is that it makes keeping track of your health easier. As Alan Newberger, an engineer at Google, pointed out this morning in a blog post announcing Google’s health product, he didn’t realize he had seasonal allergies until he connected the dots between the “cold” he got last April, and the one he got the year before at the same time. “I’ve often been overwhelmed when trying to determine or track a condition, because my personal record of health information is either nonexistent, or it’s spread on forms and receipts from (at least) a dozen doctors and five insurance companies,” he wrote.

Having your health information in one place can greatly eliminate hassles when doing things like switching doctors, or moving from a general practitioner to a specialist. If transporting relevant medical data to your new doctor is as simple as a couple of clicks, that can save you a lot of time and headache. Easier access for trusted doctors or emergency medical workers can also mean faster and more accurate diagnoses and less chance of mistakes in the operating room (such as administering a medication to a patient to which they are allergic).

But the big drawback to storing medical records online is privacy. As the Associated Press points out, third-party services aren’t covered in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a 1996 US law which created standards about how medical information can be shared. What that means, according to Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum, is that anyone who trusts an online medical records service could be making it easier for the government or a legal adversary to gain access to their medical records. Further, information not controlled under HIPAA might theoretically be used for marketing purposes.

Google isn’t the only one getting into online health records. Steve Case’s Revolution Health, WebMD, and Microsoft all have similar products. When Microsoft announced their Health Vault initiative last October, we touched on many of the same issues.

We agreed with Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land, who noted that online health records initiatives like those from Google or Microsoft are inextricably tied in the US to the success or failure of universal health care plans. People will be far more likely to feel comfortable putting their health records online knowing that their insurance coverage won’t be in jeopardy should that information leak out.

As we wrote in October, it is very likely that eventually health records will be stored online. The benefits are too great and the companies pushing for it have very deep pockets and wield a lot of power. But there is still a lot of leg work to be done before people will trust companies like Google and Microsoft with their health information.

Would you trust Google, Microsoft, or any other company with your personal health information? If health care was guaranteed to you regardless of your medical history would you be more apt to store health records online? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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