Google provides more details on e-health effort

Google Health to offer a central place for storing medical records online

Google Inc. today shed more light on the health care service it is developing, showing off a couple of screenshots of what it will look like.

Google has been talking about its health initiative for some time, slowly revealing more aspects of the project. Last week, the company announced a pilot of the service with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, but it was short on details.

Today, the company said Google Health aims to offer users a central place to store their medical records. They will be able to import and share records from multiple institutions, provided the organizations already allow customers to digitally access their records.

A user's profile lists important information such as conditions, medications, test results, allergies and past operations. It also lists current doctors with their contact information.

Through the Cleveland Clinic pilot, Google has already discovered that the service is useful to people who may live part of the year in Ohio and part of the year in Florida, said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search and user products at Google, in a blog post. Those people have historically carried paper health records back and forth between the locations, she said. Now they can import their data from each medical facility and share it electronically with the other facility.

Mayer stressed the privacy and security that Google will offer around customers' health data. Unless users give explicit permission, Google won't share or sell their data, she said. The company developed its privacy policy in collaboration with the Google Health Advisory Council, a group of medical professionals who offer feedback to Google on its health care product ideas and development.

Google is working on a directory of third-party services that will be accessible from Google Health. For now, it simply allows users to import records into their profiles. In the future, Mayer wrote, Google Health will let users schedule appointments and refill prescriptions online.

Despite Mayer's blog post and a speech today by CEO Eric Schmidt at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in Orlando, the service still isn't available beyond the Cleveland Clinic pilot. It should become publicly available in the "coming months," Mayer wrote.

In September, the lead for the Google Health project, Adam Bosworth, left the company. At the time, Google said Mayer would run the project until a permanent replacement was found.

Bosworth was blogging about issues related to health care and how online tools might help as far back as 2006. The Cleveland Clinic pilot, which will be available to between 1,500 and 10,000 participants, is the first tangible offering of a Google Health service.

Google isn't alone among companies tackling the problem of organizing health care information. Rival Microsoft Corp. last year launched an online health care service called HealthVault to allow users to store and share health records online. Users can also feed data from devices such as diabetes meters and heart-rate monitors into their HealthVault accounts.

Both services are limited to institutions that have customer-accessible electronic records and to people interested in using them. Between 1% and 3% of U.S. residents have used e-health records, according to Lynne Dunbrack, program director at Health Industry Insights, a market research firm.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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