Google Health to help patients manage medical records

Google launched Google Health Monday, a service that allows people to store all their health records from different health care organisations in one central portal.

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Google launched Google Health Monday, a service that allows people to store all their health records from different health care organisations in one central portal.

The announcement was made at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, during a press conference on the state of the company's flagship search product, says Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess, a Boston-area hospital participating in the programme.

Patients often have files at different health care organisations, typically maintained and stored at their physicians' offices. According to Halamka, the new Google service would allow patients to use a central portal for the data, giving the patients control of their medical records.

Google Health sounds a lot like HealthVault, a Microsoft consumer service that also allows patients to track their health information in a centralized location. The landscape for providing a centralised location for medical records has been viewed as fragmented, and such services have been seen as a way to simplify the process for patients.

Some organisations, such as the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, have tried to address the problem themselves by putting patient records onto smart cards.

Halamka, who sits on the Google Health Advisory Council, says Google set strict guidelines in how the company will use the data. There will be no data mining of the records to serve up as advertisements, he says. Instead, ads will only appear when a user searches for something on the Google Health site.

For instance, a diabetic patient won't find ads for glucometers, a device that measures blood sugar, on his homepage on Google Health. If that patient, however, uses the Google search bar for a topic related to diabetes, ads would be presented on the search results page in normal Google fashion.

"You the patient could be the steward of the record," he says. "You technically do now, but it's locked away in a doctor's filing cabinet somewhere."

Details on what layers of security would work on top of Google Health weren't immediately clear, but Halamka says "top security people" at Google were involved in the project. In a blog post about a beta version of the portal, an engineer said that Google Health runs on AuthSub, a Google tool that enables web applications to get access to information without knowing a user's login.

While a pilot version of Google Health went into effect back in February that involved the Cleveland Clinic, today's announcement brings more organisations into the fold.

In addition to Beth Israel Deaconess, Medco, Walgreens, Longs, RxAmerica and CVS are participating in the launch.

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