Google Launches Electronic Health Records Site

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The site allows users to store health conditions, medications, allergies, and lab results; import medical records from hospitals and pharmacies; obtain information about diseases and conditions and possible medication interactions; and save a doctor's information to a user's medical contacts list.

"We've been talking about Google Health for a year," wrote Marissa Mayer, the Google vice president, Search ProductsUser Experience, in a blog posting. "How many of us have touched, or even seen, our medical records? In this day and age of information, isn't it crazy that you don't have a copy of your medical records under your control? You could use those records to develop a better understanding of your health and ultimately get better care. It's your data about your own health; why shouldn't you own and control it?"

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has signed several flagship partners, including Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics, Longs Drugs, The American Heart Association, The Cleveland Clinic, and CVS.

"Google Health will harness the power of the Internet to put users in control of their own medical records," wrote Mayer. "Data will stay with you--if you change doctors, want a second opinion, if you're traveling--and not stay siloed or stuck in files or databases that you can't get to."

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In trying to head off privacy concerns, the company issued assurances that it has strong privacy policies in place to keep information safe and private. Google said that users can control who accesses personal health information.

"By default, you are the only user who can view and edit your information. If you choose to, you can share your information with others," according to Google Health's privacy policy.

The No.1 online advertiser said that it will not sell, rent, or share information (identified or de-identified) without explicit consent, except in the limited situations, such as when Google believes it is required by law. Users can also delete their information at any time.

The system works when users set up an account, and then Google's servers automatically record log information about use of Google Health, such as number of sign-ins and number of times a link was clicked. This information is temporarily stored in association with a Google Account for two weeks, at which point it is aggregated with other data and is no longer associated with an account. The log information will be used to operate and "improve" the service and will not be correlated with use of other Google services.

In addition, Google will use aggregate data to publish trend statistics and associations. For example, Google might publish trend data similar to what is published in Google Trends. However, the company said that none of the data can be used to personally identify an individual. Additionally, certain features of Google Health can be used in conjunction with other Google products, and those features may share information to, "provide a better user experience and to improve the quality of our services. For example, Google Health can help you save your doctors' contact information into your Google Contact List."

Of course, Google Health is not the only personal health record gatekeeper in town. Microsoft has been working on its own version called HealthVault. It works with other companies such, which allows users to log and graph information such as blood pressure data, which can then be uploaded into a HealthVault account. Other partnerships include device makers such as A&D Medical and Home Diagnostics, Inc.

Other online health record sites include Revolution Health, started by AOL co-founder Steve Case and WebMD.

Personal health medical records are part of a broader category known as health infomatics, driven by Health Information Technology, which covers hardware, software, and infrastructure used to collect, exchange, store and management of medical records.

Products under this heading include electronic health records (EHR), Electronic Medical Records (EMR); ePrescribing systems (eRx); and computerized physician order entry (CPOE). According to the American Medical Association, as of 2007, there were 59-federally certified HIT vendors in the marketplace today.