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Getting To Know You - Google Takes Medical Records Online

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:15 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, HIPAA, Medical Devices, Medical Records, Drug Products

Google plans to sign up thousands of patients for online medical record keeping.

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IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ Google free icon/ author: Oren neu dag

 

It started out as a two-month trial, marrying the technical expertise of internet search giant, Google, Inc. with the medical records of 1,600 patients of the Cleveland Clinic. 

The experiment proved to be a hit when the clinic’s online health records were accessed more frequently by patients, so Monday, Google Health, a division of Google, began offering the public an opportunity to take their medical records online.

Millions of people already use Google to research information on health, doctors, treatments and injury, so exploring medical software was the next step for Google.

Google Health will allow a patient to upload and store his medical records and share them with as many medical providers as he chooses such as pharmacies, laboratories and clinics. The service has hundreds of health topics already, allowing patients to easily do in-depth research.

There is also an option to find local doctors and receive notification when the patient needs to take their medication.

A doctor can more easily check drug prescriptions to see if there is a potential for harmful drug interactions and not have to rely solely on a patient’s memory.

The company promises not to advertise on Google Health, but ads may be available in related searches.

In the two-month trial, patients didn’t seem to worry about possible intrusions into their online health information.  Google says sharing information will be up to the discretion of the individual.

Expect online health records to be the wave of the future as Walgreens, CVS, Long Drug Stores, Walgreens, Quest diagnostics, the Cleveland Clinic, among others, are all planning to partner with Google Health.  

Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search products, tells the New York Times that she hopes “thousands of partners and millions of users” will eventually be onboard.

Competitors at this time include Microsoft, which in October launched HealthVault. Still in an initial “beta phase,” it will eventually be an online service helping patients manage their health care records by partnering with the American Heart Association, CapMed, Healthmedia and others.  

Revolution Health, started by Steve Case of AOL, is another competitor as well as Aetna’s SmartSource.  

So what are the downsides?  

Patients will have to import all of their medical records to make it efficient. That in itself is a huge hurdle both in terms of comfort level and technical know-how.

A growing number of citizens are concerned about media consolidation and are taking part in an upcoming national media reform conference.   The concern is that when you consolidate information, it is subject to filtering either out of fear or favor. 

Patients already have the ability to store their paper records or keep them online for only their eyes.  

And a recent break-in of celebrity medical records at UCLA by workers there who allegedly sold them to entertainment news sources, might be a red flag for anyone wanting to guard their privacy.  

Does putting a record online make it more readily available for the world to see?   

Pam Dixon of World Privacy Forum says yes.

Dixon tells IB News, “It opens up a Pandora’s Box. The problem here is you have the end of privacy.  People have relied on secure paper records for medical privacy, but HIPAA does not extend to Google so you lose your doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Since 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has set strict standards for privacy governing medical records.  Without HIPAA standards, it is easier for marketers or the government to obtain private information.

Dixon says under HIPAA, someone can subpoena your medical records and you have to be notified. Without HIPAA protection you do not.   

“I’m not saying this is a bad company” she says, “but this is uncharted territory.  Whenever something is ground breaking there can be a lot of risk here and it takes a profound amount of consumer education to make this work.”

The California-based nonprofit group researches privacy issues and published the first major report on medical identity theft in 2006. That occurs when someone uses a person’s name and other parts of their identity to obtain medical services or to make false claims for medical services or goods. It can result in medical errors being created in a victim’s name.

Google already collects information on its users and stores e-mail discussions and according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center(EPIC), Google can record, track and profile the activities of Internet users.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Roni Zeiger, Google product manager, has addressed that concern, assuring users that they decide who has access to their records.

“That’s a consent issue not a privacy issue,” warns Dixon.    #


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