Will you trust your medical information to Google?

Will you trust your medical information to Google?

Summary: The Cleveland Clinic has announced a partnership with Google that will essentially be a soft launch of the long-awaited Google Health personal health record service. Privacy concerns may not be too far behind.

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TOPICS: Google
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The Cleveland Clinic has announced a partnership with Google that will essentially be a soft launch of the long-awaited Google Health personal health record service. Privacy concerns may not be too far behind.

According to a statement, Google will help the Cleveland Clinic to offer personal health records (PHRs), which are medical data warehouses that allow you to share your information with physicians or anyone else you trust.

The Cleveland Clinic already has a PHR system dubbed eCleveland Clinic MyChart that has 100,000 patients enrolled. The Google effort is a pilot within that system--there are a bevy of lesser known software companies that provide PHR systems. Under the Google pilot the Cleveland Clinic will sign up 1,500 to 10,000 patients. The goal is to test secure exchange of data such as prescriptions, allergies and other relevant data.

For Google, the pilot is a good test. If these Web-based PHR systems are going to work they are going to have to play nice with existing systems already in place. Interoperability has been an issue in the PHR market, which is why folks like Google and Microsoft, which has already launched HealthVault have an opening.

The concept of a PHR system makes a lot of sense, but there are key differences between the profiles offered by Google and Microsoft and systems from hospitals. The biggest one: These PHR services from the likes of Google, Microsoft and RevolutionHealth aren't covered by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). HIPAA, passed in 1996, created standards for electronic health care transactions and addressed security and privacy issues.

Since the portals behind PHRs don't technically own the data--since the user picks and chooses what to put into the repository--there are no HIPAA requirements. Data brokers and medical institutions have HIPAA requirements.

In a nutshell, these newfangled PHR systems give you some privacy protection but it's just what's covered in each company's privacy policy. To me that's a pretty big difference. The general Techmeme reaction is that you shouldn't sign up if you're worried about privacy. That's true, but don't be surprised if these efforts become HIPAA fodder in the future.

In a Knowledge@Wharton article discussing the PHR issue following Microsoft's HealthVault launch Anita Allen, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania said the following.

"I think it's a great idea to enable consumers to maintain their own health information. But when they do that and use third party providers, they are taking risks. One can enter a contract with a firm and use a service, but that means you have to trust the party -- Google, Microsoft or anyone else. Also, realize that other parties, including the government, may have access to that data under subpoena power. Companies can make promises, but they may not be able to keep the government out of your business."

That's good food for thought as these Web PHR efforts roll out.

Topic: Google

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73 comments
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  • What makes you think we have a choice?

    Your provider tells you that this is how their records work. Their way or the highway.

    Next question?
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Unfortunate, but true

      The next logical step would be to all of a sudden start seeing Google text ads for dermatologists after your health records have been scanned and Google has associated those records with a computer you are using.
      Taz_z
      • Google already does this to content of Gmail messages

        Google displays ads related to content of the current email message I have open, so they must be reading my email, indexing it, then matching key words to their advertiser list. How long are they storing this index? I already use the option to clear out web history after 18 months storage.
        killerbunny
    • POW! BANG! Next question.

      POW! BANG! Next question.
      Professor8
    • good reason for competition in health care

      The only way to avoid being forced into a compromising position vis-a-vis who manages or massages your personal medical information rests with providing competition and consumer choice in the healthcare provider marketplace, which translates to choices among health insurance plans.
      tahoe_blue
    • No all you gotta do is...

      change providers. Tell them you will not subject your personal medical records to attack. EMR's that are Web based will not be or may never be secure from unauthorized prying eyes.
      fredfarkwater@...
  • RE: Will you trust your medical information to Google?

    No way. But to tell the truth, if I have to share my medical info with any internet company, I would choose Google over any other one, especially MSFT
    Dario Cukier
    • I would refuse to allow MS to collect the info

      Under no circumstances would I allow MS to hold any of my medical info because of their dishonesty and repeated and continuing actions as a predatory monopolist. I may have a word with my doctor on this subject next time I see him given that MS has an initiative in this area also- many doctors are quite uninformed about the computer industry. Google does not use the predatory monopoly business model, nor do they have MS's history of working toward vendor lock-in. The amount of info Google collects is a concern- if Google could somehow convince consumers that the info was strictly confidential, and that the info was well secured, I would consider it.
      dfolk
      • helpful if Google customized medical ads to your medical record?

        Then you don't have to search on treatments for your disorders, just click on the adjacent "ads by Google" link. How convenient! Isn't that what Google is for, storing everything for everybody (every body). Welcome to the quasi-information monopoly.
        killerbunny
        • Mr K Bunny

          The day that Google becomes the type of abusive monopolist that MS has been for years, I will oppose them as vociferously as I oppose the the repeatedly convicted predatory monopoly. Google's market share is a concern, hopefully there will be other large players (other than MS-) to challenge them in the future. Consumer choice works to foster innovation, monopolies harm innovation.

          http://www.albion.com/microsoft/findings.html
          dfolk
          • lesser of two evils?

            there is a difference. a big one. MS has held the top spot through questionable and often times illegal activities. if they can steal the top spot, they buy the company that has it and run it into the ground. Google has consistently held the top spot by being the technology innovator. that could change. Google has more money that god and maybe more than MS. they are a force to be carefully watched. maybe if someone had watched MS back in the dos days they would be a moral company today.

            i have no problem with Google going into the health record business. they are experts at data storage and mining. i have serious problems with MS being in the same business. I can envision MS using private health records to coerce an it executive into spending millions on inferior MS products rather than going with a cheaper more effective solution. thats a little scary.
            brokndodge@...
          • don't let the "Don't do evil" / "Do no evil" slogan fool you

            Both Google and MS are evil in their own way. Use their services carefully.
            killerbunny
          • Think of what the big differences are

            Microsoft is in it for the money, to sell software, while Google is in for the data itself.

            Seeing that google makes it's money from the data, how far would they go with my data to make an extra dollar?
            GuidingLight
          • Sucker...

            ...
            ItsTheBottomLine
          • Oops doo late...and I think you need your medication

            now Mr. paranoid.
            ItsTheBottomLine
      • Big talk

        [i]Under no circumstances would I allow MS to hold any of my medical info because of their dishonesty and repeated and continuing actions as a predatory monopolist.[/i]

        Tell me that again after you have a choice between being admitted to ER or finding a hospital that agrees with you.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
      • As many would absolutelly refuse to allow Google to collect the info

        [i]The amount of info Google collects is a concern- if Google could somehow convince consumers that the info was strictly confidential, and that the info was well secured, I would consider it[/i]

        We have zero idea what google uses the collected info for, but some will blindlly trust them even when their own EULA says they are not responsible for anything related to you and any damage dome to you by an issue on their end, and that they do share infoe with 3rd parties.

        [i]many doctors are quite uninformed about the computer industry[/i]

        You are correct, and unfortunately, many may trust google as they believe in their slogan of "do no evil", even while their actions have proven otherwise.

        I would trust Microsoft more then Google here as Microsoft is in it for the money, Google is in it for the information itself.
        GuidingLight
        • data is the new gold and Google is the new information quasi-monopoly

          !
          killerbunny
        • Welcome to the future...

          Your claim that "Microsoft is in it for the money, Google is in it for the information itself" reveals that you might be stuck somewhere far in the past. Information is money. That's what Google understands. Make absolutely no mistake, both Microsoft and Google are in it for the money, they have just chosen different pathways to line their pockets.
          jasonp@...
          • I should clarify my remark

            Microsoft wants to make money off of the software sales itself while google wants to make money off of the data itself.

            If my doctor releasing my data to another place requires that place to purchase some Microsoft software, then Microsoft makes it's money and is not holding my data. If google is holding my data in an attempt to get doctors online and using their services, Google has my data and releasing that data to a third party is allways an option to them

            I trust my doctor more then I do either Microsoft or Google, but the part that I am contributing, my personal data, should not be the "currency".
            GuidingLight