Google launches health records service.
The Wall Street Journal (5/20, D2, Vascellaro) reports that Google, Inc. has launched Google Health, a "service which allows consumers to manage their medical records, and receive health advice online." This "service lets users create an electronic health profile by pulling together medical records imported from organizations such as pharmacies and lab testing companies. Users also can enter some information themselves." Most importantly, patients "can elect to share that information with" others.
Google Health "allows the user to send personal information, at the individual's discretion, into the clinic record, or to pull information from the clinic records into the Google personal file," the New York Times (5/20, C3, Lohr) adds. According to Dr. C. Martin Harris, of the Cleveland Clinic, "The ability of patients to send information, in particular, can be helpful to clinic doctors," because "if a person sees specialists outside the clinic, and receives a drug prescription from an outside doctor, it raises the risk of harmful drug interactions." Before this service became available, the primary-care physician would be unaware of the potential for drug interactions if the patient neglected to provide that information.
Bloomberg (5/20, King) notes that according to Roni Zeiger, a Google product manager, "Users will control who has access to their information, and can change those permissions at any time." The company also pointed out that "Google Health won't be funded by advertising. Instead, the site is designed to lure more users to all of Google's services, helping boost ad revenue."
According to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, "services like Google Health are troublesome because they aren't covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA," the AP (5/20, Metz) adds. Dixon points out that "y transferring records to an external service, patients could unwittingly make it easier for the government, a legal adversary or a marketing concern, to obtain private information."
In response to these concerns, Google stated that it "will not sell user data, and will not share health information unless requested by the user," the San Francisco Chronicle (5/19, D1, Colliver) noted. The company also indicated that it "may share anonymous data with third parties, such as the percentage of Google Health users with diabetes who had a flu shot."
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe (5/20, Krasner) reports that "[m]any in the healthcare industry consider electronic medical records crucial to reducing the cost of providing healthcare, and eliminating medical errors." Yet, "the start-up of electronic systems has been painfully slow because few physicians and hospitals can afford to make the investment." Most importantly, "there are no established standards that would allow data to be shared across different medical record systems."
I can only imagine what kind of hackers could access the system and sell lists to insurance companies. And of course whatever kinds of viruses they could attach to a file claiming to be really important (and yes, pun kind of intended, but couldn't really put it in a clever way).
(as many of you know, this was in today's EM today email)