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Monday, December 13, 2010

Google Wants Your Health Records

I stumbled onto Google Health the other day.

This is kind of a troubling site in many ways.  The site allows me to manage my health information online by setting personal health goals, tracking my progress meeting those goals, sharing my information with doctors, and personalizing my health needs with apps and devices.

As I have written in the past I don't think Google is in this for purely philanthropic reasons even though that's what they imply on the FAQ page where they say "Google Health is available from Google at no charge."  They make it a point to focus on how they will not use your personal information without your consent and not display ads.

Now if you peruse the site you will find that Google does have third party "partners" associated with Google Health.  These appear to be companies like Shopko, Kmart, some Blue Cross insurance providers, Walgreens, various other pharmacy companies.  The FAQ page says that these companies have no financial affiliation with Google but "third party companies that are integrated with Google Health and provide customized services may charge you directly" if you choose to use them.

Now, if yo go to the Google blog here you will see a more interesting profile page.  There you will see a prototypical dashboard and, at the bottom, a list of medications and their interactions - presumably the site somehow knows about pharmacological interactions and alerts you to them.

Later in the blog you will see that device makers (for example, companies that make devices to collect your heart rate while you jog) have been offered an API so that you upload the results of your workout into Google Health.

So what is going on here?

If you look at the partners you will see a number of hospitals listed like the Cleveland Clinic.  Now its hard to imagine what sort of relationship a Google Health user might have with this hospital unless they lived in Cleveland where they could be a patient (see the detail page for Cleveland Clinic).   If you read the profile in detail, though, you start to see what the point of all this really might be.

Suppose, it says, you, a Cleveland Clinic patient are out of town and collapse.  If you've signed up for Google Health you would have been able to load your entire Cleveland Clinic medical history into your Google Health account.  Presumably, then, while they wheel you on the gurney into heart bypass surgery you will somehow manage to blurt out your Google Health login data to the nurse who will no doubt quickly log into your Google Health account, download your medical records onto her Blackberry, and bark out new orders to the attending physician.


Has anyone really thought about this?

If you have ever dealt with any kind of doctor you know that first and foremost they are not big on using medical data collected by other people besides themselves for big decisions.  My experience is that they always want to run their own tests to confirm what you tell them or what another doctor might have told you.

It seems rather fanciful portable medical records provided in this fashion would inspire much trust.

How long before someone loads up the fact that they are on a drug they would like to be on rather than actually are on in order to obtain a legitimate prescription?

How long before a doctor is fooled into making a decision based on this kind of data which turns out to be wrong because the data is wrong?

How long before lawyers get involved in this?

It seems to me that this is again really just a ploy to try and get you to provide your personal data to them so they can use it for their own gain.  Certainly there is no explicit model for Google to make money with this that's expressed on the site - but as I said earlier don't bet that this is being done out of the kindness of their heart.

Which brings me to an article published in the WSJ regarding Google and "playing favorites".  Read this article and you will see that the old Google buggaboo about favoring its partners and its self over others, including people who are working with Google for advertising.

So what will happen when you use Google Health?

How will you know that Google will direct you to what you should see rather than something it wants you to see?

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