Google Health went public yesterday, with a not-yet-finalized “beta” version of a program that allows people to create an online medical profile with links to information from labs like Quest Diagnostics, pharmacies, and health care providers. Users can log onto Google with their normal login information and see their medical profile with all their information in one place, allowing them to keep track of their medical information without having a filing cabinet full of papers lying around.
Google says that the information on Google Health is stored on their most secure computers, and that users can rest assured that their privacy will not be compromised. Critics contend that Google already has huge quantities of information about its users, with emails, online purchasing history, and search history information stored in vast databases – and that Google Health will only add to the information they have about all of us. For now, Google Health does not have advertising, but it does have a Google search bar that will pull up normal Google search results, complete with advertising. Is it a stretch to assume that the information a person enters on Google Health could have an impact on what ads show up when someone keys in a search from their Google Health page?
I haven’t seen a mention yet of health insurance carrier data being linked to Google Health, although I can see that as a future trend. People could enter their current and previous health insurance carrier information, with benefits and claims history available when the user logs on to the site. I can also imagine a future scenario when health insurance carriers come up with a release form for the patient to sign in order to access to an applicant’s site in order to get underwriting information for individual health insurance policies.
For a healthy person with a short medical history and a single doctor, a website dedicated to organizing health data is probably not necessary. But for people with chronic health conditions who see multiple doctors and have complicated treatment histories, a website that keeps their information all in one place could be very helpful. If their doctors could log onto the site and update it, allowing the other providers across Colorado and the world to keep abreast of what is being done for the patient, it could streamline the treatment process and allow doctors to work in unison instead of having to wait for records to be faxed or mailed from one office to another. I can see lots of potential for Google Health, and also lots of pitfalls. It will be interesting to see how the advertising scenario plays out, and whether there are still privacy concerns after the site has been up and running for a while.