So far, much of the functionality of Google Health centers on prescriptions. Users can upload information from a number of pharmacies, and the program warns patients of potential drug interactions. “Making it easy for more people to access and control their prescription history is important because it represents an opportunity for people to better understand their medications and why they are taking them, and to make them more aware of safety issues that commonly occur as a result of drug interactions,” says Roni Zeiger, a physician and a product manager at Google. He estimates that with the recent addition of CVS/pharmacy to the list, more than 100 million people in the United States can import a copy of their prescription records into Google Health.
My online pharmacy hasn’t partnered with Google, so I entered my current prescriptions by hand. I then had the option of using a number of online tools that can search for cheaper alternatives to existing prescriptions, create a prescription schedule, or alert patients to recalls or new drugs. To use these tools, you must grant the program access to your health record, which may be a security concern for some. (You can end that link at any time by changing the settings on your Google Health account.)
Thus far, these services seem to have limited value. When I used one to search for cheaper alternatives to an inhaler I use for asthma, it returned a long list of options, including theophylline, a drug that I used to take as a kid and which physicians now rarely prescribe due to its jittery side effects. The service did not rate the different drugs according to their similarity to the existing medication, such as whether they are part of the same class of drugs, or according to the severity of potential side effects.
One of Google Health’s most recent features is the ability to share online medical records. “The sharing feature has been especially helpful because it enables a patient to communicate their medical history to caregivers and family members,” says John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of the facilities that allows patients to import their medical records into Google Health.
For now, the electronic medical record I have through my physician’s office is more useful than my Google Health record. But as more physicians’ offices go digital, I expect that to change.