Google Probes Medical Record Exchange

The search vendor scratches the surface of its online health initiative, testing a pilot with the Cleveland Clinic to make medical records portable.

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Looking to make some progress on helping patients corral their medical data, Google has teamed with the Cleveland Clinic to test the transfer of patient medical records to a personal healthcare portal powered by the search engine.

Between 1,500 and 10,000 patients will be invited to participate in the pilot, which links the Cleveland Clinic's online personal health record system - which includes data on prescriptions, conditions and allergies - to a Google profile the patient will set up as a repository to collect medical records.

Patients in the pilot give authorization via Google APIs to have their electronic medical records imported into a Google account. Users can recall their medical records no matter where they are in the world.

Such data portability is a boon for people who travel for business or pleasure, and for retirees who spend some months away at a second home.

For example, if a patient becomes ill or injured, he or she could recall their medical history for an attending physician from any computer. Currently, most patients have to call their personal physician and get such records mailed. This is not practical in the case of an emergency.

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK the company currently has no plans to charge for the service. However, there is no reason to think Google can't extend its online ad model by selling health-related ads on peoples' portal pages.

The Cleveland Clinic said in a statement the pilot will eventually extend these online patient services to a broader audience. Google hopes to wrap the pilot in a couple of months before formally launching it.

"This collaboration is intended to help Google test features and services that will ultimately allow all Americans [as patients] to direct the exchange of their medical information between their various providers without compromising their privacy," Cleveland Clinic CIO C. Martin Harris said in a statement.

Google needs participants such as the Cleveland Clinic to get its ambitious healthcare project off the ground.

The company announced Google Health in 2006, and while it has claimed progress, the company has had little to show for it to this point beyond a few public pronouncements about the importance of organizing health information online.

Google experienced a hiccup last September when Adam Bosworth, a noted computer programmer who joined Google in 2004 to run the company's Health project, left to form his own online health startup, Keas.

Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, assumed control of the project and delivered an overview on it in October at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Keas is just a startup, but Google faces other competition. Microsoft, which bought HealthVault last year to essentially buy into the online health-record business, WebMD and RevolutionHealth, which was created by AOL co-founder Steve Case, are all looking to help patients manage their medical records.