Friday, May 30, 2008

Google Your Medical Records

Google unveils medical records storage plan
Beth Israel, CVS part of new service
By Jeffrey Krasner
Globe Staff / May 20, 2008

Internet search giant Google Inc. yesterday rolled out its long-awaited Google Health product, which will enable users to upload and store medical records from many sources. Local healthcare companies working with Google on the project include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and CVS Caremark of Woonsocket, R.I.

Google said users can enter their personal medical records on a site with individual password protection, giving them a way to view the information from any geographic location. The company said such access is especially useful if a patient becomes ill or is injured far from his or her primary care physician.

"We believe that patients should be the stewards of their own data," said Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess, in a statement.

"Our vision is that [Beth Israel] patients will be able to electronically upload their diagnosis lists, medication lists, and allergy lists in a Google Health account and share that information with healthcare providers who currently don't have access" to Beth Israel's proprietary site, Halamka said.

Many in the healthcare industry consider electronic medical records crucial to reducing the cost of providing healthcare and eliminating medical errors. But the start-up of electronic systems has been painfully slow because few physicians and hospitals can afford to make the investment. Meantime, there are no established standards that would allow data to be shared across different medical record systems.

For Google, the service is part of a plan to boost user loyalty by giving them more reasons to log on to Google sites.

"This really puts the users' records right in their hands," said Marissa Mayer, a Google vice president. "We realize this is just the beginning."

In addition to uploading patient records, patients can also search for medical information, similar to what is offered on the popular website WebMD.

Helena Foulkes, a senior vice president at CVS Caremark, said patients who use in-pharmacy clinics will be able to store the record of their visits on Google Health. That function will be offered first in Tennessee and eventually expand to 500 MinuteClinic locations, she said. The chain is planning to open dozens of such clinics in Massachusetts.

"In today's healthcare environment, information related to an individual's overall health is often fragmented, creating gaps in the availability of data and missed opportunities to coordinate care," said Foulkes in a statement.

Yesterday, Google disclosed a first round of partners in the electronic medical record service. In addition to Beth Israel and CVS Caremark, partners include the Cleveland Clinic, Longs Drug Stores, Medco, and Walgreens Pharmacy. Google will continue to sign up partners to ensure that its users have the broadest possible access to medical information, Mayer said.

Google Health also has a variety of features intended to help users manage their healthcare. They include a link to help users find doctors by location or specialization. Another feature, called a "virtual pillbox," notifies patients when they need to take medications, and it warns of possible drug interactions.

Patient advocates and privacy specialists have expressed concern that despite password protection, sensitive health records stored online could be compromised. In recent years, data breaches have become more common, especially in the retail industry.

Google's new site already faces competition. The Mountain View, Calif., firm's biggest rival, Microsoft Corp., has introduced HealthVault, a similar service that gives users control over who sees their information.

Revolution Health, a start-up backed by former AOL chairman Steve Case, is believed to be working on a service for electronic medical records.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report. Jeffrey Krasner can be reached at

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