Are you prepared to Google your medical records?

In the world of healthcare, a patient's medical record is maintained by its author -- the doctor and nurses. So, what would the benefit be if a patient had some control over his or her records? And would that have the net result of improving patient care?

Often one of the challenges in health care from the provider’s standpoint is the ability to develop a holistic view of the patient in order to see clearly what the foundations of an illness or condition are. The patient who presents with chest pain, difficulty breathing, and tingling down one arm may be having a heart attack or simply displaying unrelated symptoms of different pre-existing conditions. Without a clear view of the history, clinicians are on a path of ruling out possible diagnosis.

Part of the issue is a lack of portability of patient health records. A single facility may have the newest and greatest electronic record system going, but generally, that information is not portable outside of that facility or family of facilities. This is one of the gaps that Google Health seeks to fill.

On Feb. 28, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt announced the new offering at a healthcare conference in Florida. According to that announcement, Google has teamed with various hospitals and companies including medical tester Quest Diagnostics, health insurer Aetna, and Walmart and Walgreen pharmacies.

The service is focused on sharing information between various services while keeping control in the hands of the patient. The service would enable the patient to schedule appointments or refill prescriptions as an example.

The system is currently in beta test with leading academic medical researcher Cleveland Clinic. According to Schmidt it will be several months before Google Health will be available more widely.

From Reuters:

Google's biggest rival, Microsoft Corp, has introduced HealthVault, which gives users control over who sees what. Among start-ups active in the field are Revolution Health, a company backed by former AOL Chairman Steve Case.

All are based on the notion that individuals should retain control over the data. "The information in your health record is yours and it doesn't get shared with anyone else without your permission," Schmidt said.

Electronic record-keeping has been held back by a lack of focus on consumer needs, not privacy fears, he said, adding any system should "'normal-person' designed, not doctor designed."

Of course, there are going to be concerns about privacy and how the system will be secured. In the United States, the Healthcare Portability Act (HIPPA) will govern how the information is secured, but there is a difference between a doctor maintaining your health records and a third party. A doctor can claim patient privilege but Google cannot.

Also from Reuters:

Google is prepared to resist fishing expeditions by lawyers seeking to subpoena personal medical records stored on Google Health. Last year, it went to court to defeat an effort by the U.S. Justice Department to request some Google search records.

"We've taken a pretty aggressive position in a pro-consumer way in the U.S., but I do want to assure you we are subject to U.S. law," Schmidt said.

Google earns almost all its revenue in Web advertising, but has no plan to sell ads on Google Health. It aims to make money indirectly when users search for other medical information.

Google sees solving privacy issues around health as part of its none-too-humble corporate mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

As issues around healthcare become increasingly complex, this offering from Google may help to simplify care for patients as they become less tied to a single clinician and use less traditional medical services, such as medical advisors, nurse practitioners, and the like. It certainly could have the effect of capturing more of the patient’s history as the patient is able to add information that might not be added -- blood pressure tracking and casual vaccinations, such as the flu and others.

I think that e-medical records could be a positive development, assuming that my privacy and security concerns and needs are also met. But I admit that I have some lingering doubt if this is a positive direction. Perhaps I am just uneasy about so much intensely personal information being stored in a single place. Still, having been on the direct patient care side, I know how frustrating it is to try to assemble a patient’s history from disparate sources.

What do you think? Would you use an online medical record service?

More information:

Google previews Google health (PC World)

Storing medical records online with Google (Computerworld)

Google Health, a first look (Google Blog)


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