Hands On With Google Health

Is entrusting your personal health records to Google a good idea?

After the usual lengthy alpha phase and more than a little hullaballoo over potential privacy concerns, Google Health has launched. While it remains to be seen whether entrusting your personal health records to Google is ultimately a good idea, the service does offer some value as a convenient online place to store and manage your health information. So rather than join the fray in debating whether or not you should actually give Google Health a try, I'll just take you on a tour of the service and leave your health care privacy decisions up to you.

Logging In

If you already have a Google account, either for Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, or another of the company's trillion services, there's no sign-up needed to begin using Google Health. Just use your existing login info and get going. If you don't yet have a Google account, go to google.com/health and click Sign Up to get started. The service collects only your name and requires you to select a username and password. Once you're signed up, you'll be dropped into a fairly empty-looking profile page.

By default, Google Health will use your login name as your profile name. If you'd rather change this to your actual name (which will make it easier for your doctor to understand when she's looking at your printed profile later), click Settings, click your profile name, and then type your preferred name and hit Enter. When you're done, click Save changes and then click your newly renamed profile name at the top of the left menu column to return to your main profile page.

To fill in your personal stats, such as height, weight, birth date, and so on, click Age, sex, height... under Profile Details on the left. Click Save when you've entered all your info.

Add Info

Unless you're among the tiny handful of people whose medical services are already in digital form and ready to be shared with Google Health by their health care organization, getting your information into Google Health is largely a manual process. So before you move on to the next steps, you'd typically want to gather your existing paper records and have them handy for reference. So gather up any prescription receipts, lab test results, or other documents you may have filed away, and then click Add to this Google Health profile.

In the "Add to this profile" screen, you can enter any medical conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results, or immunizations that may be relevant to your health. The interface is simple and straightforward. Click the appropriate tab at the top of the screen, and then start typing the name of your condition, allergy, or what-have-you into the text field. Google Health will attempt to auto-complete your entry, showing you a list of possible matches. When you find the one you want to enter, select it by clicking on it and then click the +Add button. Alternatively, you can slog through the alphabetized list of choices below. Do this for all of the conditions, procedures, allergies, etc., that you'd like to enter.

In the not-so-distant dystopian future, every health care company you deal with -- from your hospital to your insurance company to your corner pharmacy -- may begin linking to sites like Google Health so you can import all of your health records automatically and automatically share them with your doctor. At present, however, only a few companies have the ability to link to your Google Health profile. But if you happen to fill your prescriptions at, say, Longs Drug Stores, you can instantly import a list of all your medications by linking your drug store profile to your Google Health profile. To use this feature, click Import medical records and browse the list for health services providers that you deal with. If and when you find one, click Link to profile.

Drug Interactions

Once you've entered any drugs you are taking or imported prescription info from a linked pharmacy, Google Health will scout for any possibly dangerous drug interactions and alert you by placing either a hexagon or a triangle with an exclamation point beside the Drug interactions link in the left menu. The service will also alert you to any notices from your linked service providers.

Find Your Doctors

You can add your family practitioner, surgeons, or any other doctors you visit to your profile by clicking -- what else? -- Find a doctor in the left menu. Choose a type of practice from the drop-down list, then type your doctor's name in the search field and click the Search button. When you locate the doctor you're looking for, click Save to medical contacts to add them to your profile.

Add Emergency Contacts

To round out your profile, add an emergency contact by clicking Medical Contacts and choosing Create a contact from the next screen. Enter your spouse, parents, or any other person who you'd like to have notified in the event of an emergency, and include as many detailed notes about them as possible to help your health care provider communicate with them.

Print It Out

Once you've entered all of your data into Google Health, all that remains is to keep it updated and choose Print from the upper-right corner of the screen to print out a fresh copy for your health care provider, family members, or anyone else you'd like to entrust with your data.

This story, "Hands On With Google Health" was originally published by PCWorld .

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