Who Needs Microchipping When We've Got Google Health?

Health and computer news sources are buzzing about the latest announcement from Google: a pilot project starting today, February 21, will allow between 1,500 and 10,000 patients from the Cleveland Clinic to access their health records online.

Health and computer news sources are buzzing about the latest announcement from Google: a pilot project starting today, February 21, will allow between 1,500 and 10,000 patients from the Cleveland Clinic to access their health records online. Access to the health records will be limited by use of a password, as is access to other Google services, such as Gmail. The idea is to make this widely available following completion of the pilot project.

The Cleveland Clinic, which already has a system to keep personal electronic health records (called MyChart) (NYTimes), that allows more than 120,000 patients access to their own information, agreed to the trial so their patients would not be limited to geographic location and current healthcare providers.

The news of Google’s newest project has been broadcast across North America and has raised concerns about privacy issues. On the other hand, discussions are also taking place about how such availability of health care information would allow patients to take better control of their own health care and to ensure that the proper information is being relayed to the appropriate healthcare providers.

The concern regarding privacy is understandable. Just yesterday, in Montreal, Quebec, 17 people were arrested for hacking. These 17 people, aged from 17 to 26 years old, are allegedly responsible for seizing control of almost one million computers in more than 100 nations to steal identities and data, and to cause denial-of-service attacks. This group is thought to have caused an estimated $45 million dollars in damage (Montreal Gazette).

When reading stories about computer hackers, it is not difficult to understand why people will have concerns about having health information readily available online.

This type of venture — online health records – is not new, however. In 2005, Duke University launched a project aimed at making medical records in the United States and Canada available to healthcare providers who were granted authorization by the patients (Computerworld). The issue of web-based family records has also been studied by the medical community.

The American Medical Informatics Association published in 2006, Towards a Web-Based System for Family Health Record (AMIA), a write-up of the development of a “family” electronic health record (HER). The authors wrote, “The system permits an easy compilation and provides an effective visualization of the clinical data concerning family members also for friendly printing tasks.”

It is easy to see the benefits of such electronic health records, but is Google the right venue? As Google spreads itself across the Internet, many people are increasingly uncomfortable with its wide reach. Many feel that there is something “big brotherish” about the whole thing. What they may not know, however, is that Google’s project is not the first of its kind among the larger Internet companies.

HealthVault, a program from Microsoft, allows you to open an account and keep track of you and your family’s healthcare records. Their health privacy commitment states that “The Microsoft HealthVault record you create is controlled by you. You decide what goes into your HealthVault record. You decide who can see and use your information on a case-by-case basis.

If you are more of an AOL fan, there’s a program there for you backed by AOL founder, Steven case, called Health Revolution. The section My Revolution, allows you to personalize the section with your own information and your own health history.

The news of Google’s foray into healthcare may be surprising and shocking to some, however their partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to start this off may work in their favor.