Since its official launch last week, the eyes of the health-care world have been on Google Health–a long-anticipated new application from the search engine goliath that allows people to collect their medical records, prescriptions, and other health data and share them with others.
Currently, anyone with a Google account can access the service, now in beta testing. To the average user, the beta service offers some convenient features, like the ability to enter your own medical information or search your prescription history with a few big pharmacies. But it is among patients at networked hospitals–like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston–that Google Health will prove whether it can truly live up to the hype.
On May 20, Beth Israel Deaconess officially joined the Cleveland Clinic and a handful of pharmacies, labs, and other health businesses as Google’s first partners in the new service. If Google Health succeeds at Beth Israel Deaconess, this may forecast whether patients are willing to trust their health information to large personal health record (PHR) providers, and it may hint at how Google Health and similar services might impact medical care in the future.
“I have a strong belief that patients should be the stewards of their own medical data,” says John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess, who also chairs the national Health Information Technology Standards Panel and sits on Google Health’s advisory council.
Odds are that the digital revolution has not yet reached your doctor’s office. A typical patient’s medical records–a compendium of charts, tests, and reports accumulated over a lifetime–are scattered across dozens of labs, pharmacies, and hospitals, in paper folders and in isolated databases. The result: doctors don’t communicate, information is fragmented, and medical care suffers.
Hospitals are increasingly moving away from paper files and toward standardized electronic records. But even with the growing digitization of health data, there is little sharing of records between different hospitals and doctors’ offices. By making it easy for patients to manage and share their own records, services like Google Health have the potential to bring about a tremendous increase in the fluidity of health data.
“One of the challenges, especially for folks with chronic disease, is that they may have 10 health-care providers,” says Halamka. “They assume that they’re chatting with each other and keeping their records in sync, and it’s actually not true.”
Through Google Health, Beth Israel Deaconess patients–who already have access to their own electronic medical records, via the hospital’s PatientSite program–can access official copies of their Beth Israel Deaconess records and save them in a Google Health profile, along with other medical information they create or import.