Online patient records
Google Health begins pilot with
SAN FRANCISCO Ė Google Inc. will
begin storing the medical records of up to 10,000 persons as it tests a
long-awaited health service thatís likely to raise more concerns about
the volume of sensitive information entrusted to the Internet search
A pilot project will involve 1,500 to 10,000 patients at the Cleveland
Clinic. The patients have volunteered to an electronic transfer of their
personal health records so they can be retrieved through Googleís new
service, which wonít be open to the general public.
Each health profile, including information about prescriptions,
allergies and medical histories, will be protected by a password thatís
also required to use other Google services, such as e-mail and
personalized search tools.
Google views its expansion into health records management as a logical
extension because its search engine already processes millions of
requests from people trying to find out more information about an
injury, illness or recommended treatment.
But the health venture also will provide more fodder for privacy
watchdogs, who believe Google already knows too much about the interests
and habits of its users as its computers log their search requests and
store their e-mail discussions.
Prodded by the criticism, Google last year introduced a new system that
purges peopleís search records after 18 months. In a show of its privacy
commitment, Google also successfully rebuffed the U.S. Justice
Departmentís demand to examine millions of its usersí search requests in
a court battle two years ago.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company hasnít specified a timetable for
unveiling the health service, which has been the source of much
speculation for the past two years. Marissa Mayer, the Google executive
overseeing the health project, has previously said the service would
debut in 2008.
The Associated Press learned about the pilot project from the Cleveland
Clinic, a not-for-profit medical center founded 87 years ago. The clinic
already keeps the personal health records of more than 120,000 patients
on its own online service called MyChart. Patients who transfer the
information to Google would still be able to get the data quickly even
if they were no longer being treated by the Cleveland Clinic.
ďWe believe patients should be able to easily access and manage their
own health information,Ē Mayer said in a statement supplied by the
Microsoftís wrestling match with Google
The Cleveland Clinic decided to work with Google ďto create a more
efficient and effective national healthcare system,Ē said C. Martin
Harris, the medical centerís chief information officer.
Google isnít the first high-tech heavyweight to set up an online filing
cabinet in an effort make it easier for people to get their medical
records. Rival Microsoft Corp. last year introduced a similar service
called HealthVault (available so far only in the U.S.), and AOL
co-founder Steve Case is backing Revolution Health, which also offers
online tools for managing personal health histories.
The third-party services are troublesome because they arenít covered by
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, said
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, which issued a
cautionary report on the topic.
Passed in 1996, HIPAA established strict standards that classify medical
information as a privileged communication between a doctor and patient.
Among other things, the law requires a doctor to notify a patient when
subpoenaed for a medical record.
That means a patient who agrees to transfer medical records to an
external health service run by Google or Microsoft could be unwittingly
making it easier for the government or some other legal adversary to
obtain the information, Dixon said.
If the medical records arenít protected by HIPAA, the information
conceivably also could be used for marketing purposes. Google, which
runs the Internetís most lucrative ad network, typically bases its
marketing messages on search requests and the content on Web pages and
e-mail contained in its computers.
Itís not clear how Google intends to make money from its health service.
The company sometimes introduces new products without ads just to give
people more reason to visit its Web site, betting the increased traffic
will boost its profits in the long run.