Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Google Health Launches

Security concerns are already surfacing.

  • May 19, 2008

Google launched its much anticipated medical database service today at a press event at the company’s offices in Mountain View, CA. Previewed in February, the service provides a place where Google users can store medical history, compile prescriptions, and search for relevant medical information.

The search giant has already lined up some big-name partners. Walgreen’s, CVS, Longs Drugs Stores, AllScripts, Quest Diagnostics, and the Cleveland Clinic have all announced partnerships.

For example, according to a press release from CVS,

By integrating on the Google Health platform, patients who receive treatment at MinuteClinic, the retail-based health clinic subsidiary of CVS Caremark, will be able to securely import their visit summaries into their Google Health Accounts.

One of the biggest hurdles facing Google Health is whether consumers trust the company enough to hand over their most intimate medical details. Google promises that security has been a primary concern when building the database. But the true test of whether the company has assuaged privacy fears will come when we see how many people sign up.

A blog posted minutes after the launch may be a preview of things to come:

However, the terms of usage gave me a little pause. The biggest issue: Typical health information protections–HIPAA–don’t apply. During a demo, Google executives said that the user controls the information and the search giant won’t share information unless the patient says it’s OK. That’s a great promise, but it’s not HIPAA.

According to the terms of service,

Use of Your Information

If you create, transmit, or display health or other information while using Google Health, you may provide only information that you own or have the right to use. When you provide your information through Google Health, you give Google a license to use and distribute it in connection with Google Health and other Google services. However, Google may only use health information you provide as permitted by the Google Health Privacy Policy, your Sharing Authorization, and applicable law. Google is not a “covered entity” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the regulations promulgated thereunder (“HIPAA”). As a result, HIPAA does not apply to the transmission of health information by Google to any third party.

In addition, Google makes information available to third services if you permit it, and it keeps that access open until you actively disable it. That could be a sticking point for those of us who are too lazy to actively manage our accounts.

Sign up for the service here, or find out more about it at Google Health FAQ.

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