Google has upgraded its Google Health solution, now allowing users to share their medical records and other personal health information with doctors, family members and other trusted contacts.
Google Health is designed to let patients create health profiles, search for doctors and online health services, and automatically update their medical records. It was first introduced by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in February 2008 at a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference.
The company's entrance into the Health Care IT field allows it to compete in yet another arena against Microsoft, which has been exploring ways to enter the health-care market, and sites such as Revolution Health and WebMD.
Users of Google Health can type in an e-mail address of a physician, relative or health-care provider, who will then be sent a link to the user's profile. The link expires after 30 days, and the profile is read-only to invitees; at the same time, the application generates an activity report so the user can see who has viewed their profile.
According to the company, making such information accessible by a select group of people, from virtually anywhere with a Web connection, can offer substantial benefits.
"Just a few years ago, my father suffered a minor heart attack and was sent to the ER. I arrived on the scene in a panic, and was asked what medications he was taking. To my surprise, I had no clue," Sameer Samat, director of product management for Google, wrote on the company's official blog. "If my father had a Google Health account, and had shared his profile with me, I would have been up-to-date on his current medications."
In addition, Google has introduced a printing feature that includes a "wallet format," so allergy and medication information can be placed on an easily portable card, and a graphing feature that lets users visually plot out medical information such as their cholesterol level.
Several issues have been raised and debated about Google Health since its inception, including whether Google will attempt to monetize the service by posting ads.
In January, privacy rights group Consumer Watchdog suggested the company was backing a lobbying effort to OK the sale of electronic medical records, which could then be sold to potential Google Health advertisers. Google hit back in the strongest possible terms.
"This claim - based on no evidence whatsoever - is 100 percent false and unfounded. Google does not sell health data," Pablo Chavez, senior policy counsel for Google, wrote in a blog post at the time. "In fact, one of our most steadfast privacy principles is that we don't sell our users' personal data, whether it's stored in Google Health, Gmail or in any of our products. And from a policy perspective, we oppose the sale of medical information in the health care industry."