Google Health Expands PHRs To Everyone

Don't feel like keying in all the data yourself? Not to worry. Google has "partnered with hospitals, labs, and pharmacies to allow you to import your records.

After a three-month trial, Google has made the tools used in its electronic health records program with the Cleveland Clinic available to anyone. Will you sign up?

I did. Or, at least, I attempted to. Google Health is free and available to anyone with a Google services account. I visited the Google Health page, which contains the bare minimum of information. There was a "take a tour" link, though, so I followed that to learn what Google Health really offers.

The first thing Google wants you to know is that your health information is safe and secure. Google says, "We believe that your health information belongs to you, and you should decide how much you share and whom you share it with. We will never sell your data. We store your information securely and privately." If that is not enough assurance for you, you can read Google's privacy policy for more details, but you might need a lawyer to help figure out all the legalese. I use multiple Google services each and every day, and Google has yet to fail me when it comes to privacy issues. I feel comfortable that Google can handle (at least a portion of) my medical records.

To whit, Google says you can provide as little or as much information about yourself as you want, and cites things such as conditions, medications, and allergies. It provides reference links so you can learn more about any afflictions troubling you. You may also sign up family members.

Don't feel like keying in all the data yourself? Not to worry. Google has "partnered with hospitals, labs, and pharmacies to allow you to import your records and prescription history from healthcare providers that treat you. Linking accounts with these partners is secure. Just identify yourself by signing in at the partner's site with the username and login that you have with them, and then confirm that you want to link accounts and transfer data to Google Health."

This is where my personal journey with Google Health ran into trouble. I have yet to create accounts with my physician and other medical professionals' websites. When I attempted to do this, I ran into some limitations in what my health care providers offer with respect to information via the Web. I would suggest that this is probably going to be the biggest roadblock for most who attempt to use Google Health. Sure, you can enter a lot of detailed information yourself, but you'd be doing so without the official records from your healthcare provider. Having access to your actual health records will be much more valuable.

If you do have access to those records, Google Health offers more benefits. It will allow you to track your medical history, and permit you see a summary or detailed information. Google will also act as a pharmacist, to a certain extent. Google says, "Every time you add new health data to your profile, Google Health will check for potential interactions between your drugs, allergies, and conditions." Not only will it provide counter-indication data, but it allows you to refill prescriptions online.

If you are unhappy with your current doctor, or just want another opinion about something, you can use Google Health to share your medical records with other medical professionals, as well as research new healthcare providers. Says Google, "You can review professional details about doctors or easily view their business locations in Google Maps. You can search for hospitals too. Add all your providers to your medical contacts list so this important information is always close at hand."

I entered some information about my allergies (they were awful last month), and was greeted with a host of links to information about pollens, spores, ragweed, and dozens of other causes of allergies. I've had my allergies long enough to know what cause them and how to deal with them, but it was still nice to have access to this sort of information linked to my own records. If you have ever used a third-party site such as WebMD to gather health information, Google Health can be a partial substitute, as long as you're willing to share some info about yourself. WebMD obviously allows you to search for health information anonymously.

In the end, I think the success or failure of this program will hinge on two factors. First, people will have to be comfortable with providing their health information online. This is a big leap for many. While online banking has become commonplace, most people are not yet using someone else's servers to safeguard their most private information. This will take time. Second, Google needs to continue to expand its partnerships with health care providers, and your own health care providers will need to realize that patients want and need access to their accounts online.

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