Thursday, May 22, 2008

Personal Health Records Now on Google!

I'm sure we've all been to see a doctor several times, and the most annoying part, other than getting an appointment and waiting for your turn, is to fill out the sheets of health conditions and medical history, not just yours but your family's too! Believe it or not, I was so inclined to launch an online tool that would maintain medical records online, but its just that several others, including Google, beat me to it!:) Google Health is now open to public, where you can choose to update your medical records and information that could be used for future doctor visits, eliminating the need to fill out any more forms!

Google Health has been a "pilot project" for the company, and after a year and half of development, it is now live and offers online personal health records to the public since Monday. It allows the user/patient to send personal information, at his own discretion, into the clinic record or to pull information from the clinic records into his Google personal file. There have been several players who did this previously, (WebMD & Microsoft too), but this concept was a bit hard to accept as people are skeptical to put their personal medical information online. But will a technology name like Google help shun the old fears and coax people into accepting this? A two-month trial this year held at the Cleveland Clinic found that patients were eager to use the Google health records as they somehow felt more safe sharing their information with Google because its a trusted name in online security.

As soon as you enter Google Health, you land on your Profile page. You can create a new profile or update an existing one with your medical information like allergies, procedures, medical conditions, family history and more. You can import medical records from a clinic or make them available to your doctors, but only if you explicitly choose to do so. A list of tabs on the left give you a summary of your profile and also attached test procedures and results. As all Google products, this is fairly simple to use.

They also offer other useful services like "Find a Doctor" and "Explore Health Services" just like any other online program. The look and feel of this tool is simple, and Google is not selling advertisements (yet!). What information should be shared with doctors, clinics and/or pharmacies is totally controlled by the individual (or at least that's what it says!) More than two dozen companies and institutions have already announced partnerships with Google Health, including Walgreens, CVS, the American Heart Association, Quest Diagnostics, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic. They all hope to capitalize eventually (by ads or sponsorships) on the trend of seeking health information online, and the potential of web to help consumers manage their own health care and medical spending.

If you accept that this system is secure, and that your privacy would not be violated, i can see a lot of benefits for this. One, you don't have to rely on your memory trying to remember when was the last time you had a cold or got a vaccination. Its really easy to share history with your doctors, especially when you change them, as you don't need to re-iterate about your conditions to the new physician. Its also useful to request a doctor to view these records before you fly across states or countries just for an appointment and then to be told that the doctor cannot treat you because of a "glitch" in your records! And its so much easier to choose off-the-shelf medication if you can discuss the records with a pharmacist before-hand!

Like everything in life, I can see that Google Health has its pros and cons. With the growing threat of internet fraud, people would be justified to be skeptical about something like this. But with more and more people turning to the web for finding cures to simple medical problems, there are a lot of benefits of sharing medical records online, only if used in the right way,. Whether Google Health weilds its power on people or not, only time will tell!

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