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May 19, 2008

Google Health Launches

After a year and a half since the first announcement, the much-anticipated Google Health has been released at Google Factory Tour of Search. "Patients need to be able to better coordinate and manage their own health information. We believe that patients should control and own their own health information, and should be able to do so easily," said Adam Bosworth in November 2006.

Here's what you can do in Google Health:
* create a health profile with information about your health conditions, medications, allergies
* import medical records from US hospitals that use Google's APIs to make the conversion possible. Unfortunately, the list of partners is almost empty.
* read medical resources, information about diseases

* find a doctor using Google Local Search
* use other health services that integrate with Google Health and can can import your data securely and use it for different purposes: calculate the heart attack risk, print your health history or share it with doctors. According to the FAQ, "Google Health is a PHR (Personal Health Record), but it is also a bit of a different model. We believe it's not enough to offer a place where you can store, manage, and share your health information. You need to act on your health information to better manage your health needs on a daily basis. This is why we provide a directory of online health services to you. You must elect to sign up with a service and decide what level of personal data you want to share in exchange for the customized services those companies offer."

Google Health wants to become the central place where you organize your health information and share it with people or services you trust. Since this information is very sensitive, Google takes a lot of precautions by using SSL connections and a separate privacy policy that clearly states: "You control who can access your personal health information. By default, you are the only user who can view and edit your information. If you choose to, you can share your information with others."

This is a big test of trust for Google and probably the most personal service ever offered by the company. While you can also enter your credit card information in Google Checkout, your location in iGoogle or Google Maps, personal information in orkut, Blogger and YouTube, Google Health is about your existence.

"Health information is very fragmented today, and we think we can help. Google believes the Internet can help users get access to their health information and help people make more empowered and informed health decisions. People already come to Google to search for health information, so we are a natural starting point," says Google. But there's a big difference between offering general health information and storing health records, so it will be interesting to see if Google manages to convince users that this shift is beneficial to them. Google could integrate more health information in the search results, the same way Microsoft shows information from HealthVault in Live Search and lets you collect it in your account. TechCrunch says that "Google promises never to advertise on Google Health".

(Small tidbits: Google Health is one of the very few Google applications created using Google Web Toolkit and its codename seems to be Weaver.)


  1. Actually, there are quite a few partners once you log in and click "Import Medical Records":

    Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
    Cleveland Clinic MyChart
    Longs Drug Stores
    MinuteClinic from CVS Caremark
    Quest Diagnostics
    Walgreens Pharmacy

  2. The partner list is available here:

  3. According to Google:

    "We won't sell or share your data without your explicit permission"

    but the site also says it is not subject to HIPAA privacy controls. sounds fishy.

  4. I just created my profile and was a bit shocked to be asked what my race was. Is this normal in the US? I would be quite offended to be asked that question either here in Australia or back home in England. I don't even really know how to answer it.

  5. @charlieperry:

    Yes, this is normal part of health information in the US. It's asked because being of a certain race can make you more susceptible to certain illnesses (for example, African Americans have a much higher rate of Sickle Cell Anemia than in the general population). Doctors have to be careful with this, as all of the research is correlational, but nonetheless, it can help narrow the scope of your differential diagnosis.

  6. @anonymous:

    Mike Yang makes the reasonable point on the Google Public Policy Blog that "Google Health is not regulated by HIPAA because Google does not provide health care services."

    This chart compares how Google's policies compare to health organizations that are regulated by HIPAA.

  7. Google's FAQ: "Google Health is completely free. [...] Google Health is also free to our partners as well. There is no charge to doctors' offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and other companies that partner with Google Health so that you can import medical records into your account safely and securely. [...] Much like other Google products we offer, Google Health is free to anyone who uses it. There are no ads in Google Health. Our primary focus is providing a good user experience and meeting our users' needs."

    Did Google change from "Do no evil" to "Do good"? Where is the money coming from?

  8. The perennial axim, "There's no free lunch", applies here. I attempted to link up my Google Health's account to my profile at Quest Diagnostics. Quest indicated to me that my doctor has to request the secured 16-digit pin for me. I wrote my doctor a letter indicating that he should request that PIN for me. Guess what? My doctor called me today and informed me that that in order for him to participate with Quest, his account has to be upgraded (hint: cost more for him to do business so that I get a free feature from Google Health). So, that axim I indicated above remains correct for now. My point is everything is great for Google as far as Google Health is concerned but the doctor and Quest Diagnostics are footing the bill and chances are, they won't do it. Google Health is going to be a gian t health information storage but electronic link up to health services, I'll doubt it will be a success.
    PS. Can someone put a feature so that Google Health can store PDF version of my children's immunization as well as most recent bloodwork? Just asking.

  9. I'm using this blog to update my experience with Google Health. So far, it looks positive. Quest Diagnostics informed my doctor that it does not cost anything for her to upgrade to the portal account. Since Google Health has just been launched, Quest is "flooded" with requests for portal account upgrade from doctors. Just may be Google is proving me wrong on my perennial axim.

  10. I would be surprised if people start to take up this service. When will they start storing our birth certificates?

  11. Google Health is really a revolutionary service considering is user base.

  12. How to be part of your group...please can you guide me...i am intrested to be part of such health org.

  13. When Google launches its new web browser, will you try it out?
    I definitely will.
    If it isn't that great, I'll just go back to Firefox.