Google Health finally up and open for business

After a long time in discussion, Google publicly launched Monday its free online personal health records. The operation first made headlines a couple of months ago when Google announced it at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). I was invited to the Googleplex, but due to a prior engagement,  had to miss the chance to get it from the horses mouth.

Much like the "non-PHR" HealthVault, Google now allows consumers to download records from its eight initial partners and store them for free.Googlehealth

As the WSJ Health Blog points out, only a minority of medical practices keep records electronically. But the good news is that Google has been thinking not just about EMRs, but also about the rest of data that’s most useful (Rx and lab results) and has some big players, such as Medco, Walgreens and Quest on its list of initial partners.

Google will also have to spend more time now dealing with the privacy zealots and not just leaving it all to, well, me!

Although I wasn’t there, a much more famous health IT person was. John Halamka is the Chief Information Officer at one of Google’s initial partners, Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (and of course colleague of THCB regular Paul Levy, and more recently himself a blogger). BIDMC has offered its patients a PHR for more than 7 years, and now that data can be brought into Google Health (and I assume vice versa). John’s post about the launch is below — Matthew Holt


Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is now live with Google Health. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Google Health Advisory Council and have not accepted any payments from Google for my advisory role. BIDMC is also working with Microsoft Health Vault and Dossia.

I’m now at Google Headquarters in Mountain View with the Google Health team – Roni, Missy, Maneesh, Jerry etc. and several dozen reporters.

Here’s the functionality we’ve launched.

When a user logs into Google Health and clicks on Import Health Records – the following choices appear:Googlehealth_2

  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Longs
  • Minute Clinic/CVS
  • Quest Laboratories
  • RxAmerica
  • Walgreens

They are all early integrators with Google Health.

At BIDMC, we have enhanced our hospital and ambulatory systems such that a patient, with their consent and control, can upload their BIDMC records to Google Health in a few keystrokes. There is no need to manually enter this health data into Google’s personal health record, unlike earlier PHRs from Dr. Koop, HealthCentral and Revolution Health. Once these records are uploaded, patients receive drug/drug interaction advice, drug monographs, and disease reference materials. They can subscribe to additional third party applications, share their records if desired, and receive additional health knowledge services.

A few important notes.

Security and privacy are foundational to Google Health. The privacy
policy, with oversight from the Google Health Advisory Council,
stipulates that data will never be transfered, sold, mined or released
without specific consent of the patient. Patients completely control
the content and may remove it any time. This is similar to the
Microsoft Health Vault policy.

Security standards include use of certificates, IP address
restrictions controlling partner transmissions in and out of Google
health, no caching of health data to the desktop (Google desktop will
not index Google Health pages) and encrypted transmission.

The data standards underlying Google interoperability include a
proprietary form of the Continuity of Care Record, called CCR/G. Google
has committed to supporting the standards which have been recognized by
HHS Secretary Leavitt including the Continuity of Care Document. The
vocabulary standards used by Google and its decision support partner,
Safe-Med, include SNOMED CT, LOINC, NDC, RxNorm, and ICD9.

Over the next few months, it will be interesting to see how many of
the 40,000 monthly users of BIDMC’s Patientsite will elect to use
Google Health. Our plan is to continue to support Patientsite but also
enpower patients with interoperability to other personal health records
that they may find useful.

Our rollout strategy is that we’ve enabled the Google Health link to
5000 patients with existing Google g-mail accounts (based on their
Patientsite email addresses). We’ll then expand the rollout as rapidly
as we can based on our experience with supporting patients who use
Google Health.

Here’s the message we sent out to our Clinicians and
their Patients:

Over the past year, BIDMC has worked with Google Health to integrate Patient site and Google’s new patient portal.

Google Health is a place for patients to gather their data from
providers, payers, pharmacies and labs in one place, then receive
decision support such as drug monographs, and disease information.

It is an Opt-In service and the patient controls every aspect of the Google Health site.

There is no additional work for you or your practice.

More information will be coming soon and we’ll follow up next week. Below is the email we’ll send to your patients:

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has partnered with Google
Health to offer you additional features regarding your personal health

Patients who use PatientSite will now be able to upload their
records about diagnoses, medications and allergies from PatientSite to
Google Health, and then also use Google’s specialized medical knowledge
features – online reference materials about medical conditions,
information about drug safety, questions to ask your doctor, and more.

How will this work? Initially, patients with a Google Gmail email
address will have a new link in PatientSite called Google Health that
will enable them to optionally use these Google features. We will add
this link to additional Patientsite patients over the next few weeks.

These features are completely optional and will always be under the
control of the patient. Google will not target advertising to the site,
use the data, resell or share this data in any way. At no time will
BIDMC share your data with Google without your consent. The decision to
participate and share data is completely up to you. If you decide to
participate, you can change your mind at any time and not participate.
We hope these new features are helpful to you.

See also: Tom Foremski calls this the biggest launch since Google AdWords, the SF Chronicle’s coverage, Wired’s coverage and Forbes’ coverage.

3 replies »

  1. John,
    I just signed up and reviewed the features of the Google Health site. However, I was surprised to note that none of the Advisory Board member bios referenced experience with Naturopathic Medicine — I determined this by doing a search on the word Naturopathic. I then went to the doctor search and looked for the speciality of Naturopathic and found none. I did, though, find “acupuncture” and “chiropractic” specialties listed. Was that deliberate or an oversight?

  2. John,
    Since you’re on the advisory board for Google Health, I hope you can answer this question: will the flow of information in Google health be two-way? That is, in addition to being able to load data into Google Health, will you be able to send GH data to partners?
    I’m thinking of two cases in particular: sending data to EMRs and to other PHRs. One day we will have a fully functioning national health information network, but until we do it would be a great benefit to be able to use GH to upload info from one system and then download it into another.

  3. I’m really amazed that it’s taken this long for someone to take a leading position on healthcare information. So much of quality healthcare depends upon information, that it’s almost a crime that we haven’t addressed this soon.
    I’m sure Google Health has a lot of vetting to go through, but at least Google has taken a bold initiative that is long long overdue.
    As an RN, I’m excited that we’re finally moving toward a secure and usable source of patient data so that we can more effectively prevent, manage and treat patients with the kind of care they deserve.
    Bravo Google!