Google Health Launch Just “the Beginning”

Google Health, which previewed in February (see the June print story “The Great PHRontier”), went live with relatively little fanfare on May 19. The launch doesn’t mean that the personal health record service is finalized, says Missy Krasner, Google Health product marketing manager. “We are just at the beginning,” she says.

Google’s PHR allows users to upload and store their medical records as well as research health conditions and receive personalized medical alerts. Users can enter in their own data as well as have records automatically uploaded from Google Health partners like provider Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, and labs including Quest Diagnostics. Records can also be downloaded from providers such as physicians and hospitals.

Like any Google offerings Google Health will be modified over time based on user feedback and technological developments. “This is version one, and it is our philosophy at Google that products launch early and iterate often,” says Jerry Lin, Google Health product manager, who helped build the product.

Connections Growing

The Google Health user interface was fine-tuned this spring in a pilot test with nearly 1,500 patients at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Several elements of the product were changed during the pilot, including the way records are sorted and how they can be edited, Lin says. Patients were impressed by the portability of their records, Krasner says, and pleased with the ability to integrate information from other medical treatment sources. 

One major area of development lies in adding more Google Health partners. The record service launched with several major healthcare stakeholders including CVS and the Cleveland Clinic, but its goal is to perpetually increase the number of providers and services that can upload and download data to the service. These prospective partners include payers, medical groups, and even EHR vendors, Krasner says.

Those collaborations rest on both sides using recognized health IT standards for exchanging data. Google Health currently uses a modified version of the Continuity of Care Record for its information exchange. This was the most prevalent standard at the time Google Health was developed, Lin says.

But with the growing emergence of the Continuity of Care Document standard, Lin says Google Health has begun working to integrate the CCD into its product for future use. “It is very important for Google Health to stay with the standards and promote and use these standards so that we will really reduce the adoption barrier,” Lin says. 

No Paper Allowed

All data submitted to Google Health must be done electronically. This will present a problem when the company tries to partner with smaller physicians’ offices who use only paper records. The partnership is a future goal, Krasner says, and a solution is still being developed. Getting paper records into a user’s account can currently be done, but at a price.

Along with the site’s launch, Google published its API so third-party developers could build applications for the site. Three of the 14 third-party applications available at launch offer to convert a user’s paper medical records into structured Google Health profile data, starting at $30. Some current services will collect a user’s records from providers, but at a higher cost.

To Come: Social Networking, Consent Detail

Future versions of Google Health will add unique features created by in-house and third-party collaborators, Lin says. For example, Google Health is working on allowing consented user-to-user data sharing, which would foster social collaboration on disease management. The company also is working to make the consent authorizations more granular, so users can select exactly what information to share and with whom. Currently, users can only consent to share all or none of their information with an entity.

Google is also modifying the system to accept images such as x-rays, CAT scans, and possibly scanned images of paper medical records. “These are very critical pieces of your medical record, and at Google Health we want to be able to provide that infrastructure in order to facilitate the exchange of that information,” Lin says.

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