Google begins storing medical records

After more than a year of coy hints, Google has come out and taken a ground-breaking step. Starting with somewhere between 1,500 and 10,000 Cleveland Clinic patients, all of whom will be volunteers, Google will begin storing information from their existing personal health records. The information will be drawn from an existing PHR already maintained by the Clinic, dubbed eCleveland Clinic MyChart. To access their health profiles--which include information on prescriptions, allergies and medical history--they'll use the same ID and password they use to access less-sensitive services like the Google calendar or Gmail.

Sure, there are advantages to this arrangement. In particular, putting health information onto Google's servers will make it very accessible--in fact, it's about as close to a universal home page as we've got right now--which could certainly be helpful to physicians who want to access it when the patient's away from home. Still, the announcement has privacy advocates upset, who argue that Google is hardly the kind of neutral intermediary one might hope for when it comes to protecting health information privacy. And the fact that Google isn't an HIPAA-covered entity gives their arguments some heft. Truth is, whether it's Google, Microsoft or the next search/portal giant yet to emerge, big interactive companies are going to want in on the future of health information. At this point, HIT pros and privacy advocates alike might want to think about workable compromises here.

To learn more about Google's announcement:
- read this Associated Press piece

ALSO: For a contrarian take on the privacy issues involved, check out this piece in The Health Care Blog.

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A Google vision for health data. Report
Google Health on the verge of launching. Report
This column is not about Google. Editorial