Wednesday, May 21, 2008

'Google Health' launches despite privacy fears

The emerging electronic medical records "industry" and the privacy concerns associated with it is now here, as "Google Health" has officially launched.

As I have detailed on this blog, there has been a rash of electronic medical record privacy violations in recent months as well as a new study published in the The New England Journal of Medicine warning that "the entry of big companies like Microsoft and Google into the field of personal health records could drastically alter the practice of clinical research and raise new challenges to the privacy of patient records."

The important distinction between traditional medical records versus those stored by Google is that we currently have no laws guaranteeing the privacy of privately digitized health information. And until that time comes, there are serious privacy risks involved in allowing ones records to be electronically stored by companies like Microsoft and Google.

With that said, there are also signficant benefits to the new service as well. So as always, the devil will be in the details...

The Telegraph reports on the big launch:

The service, called Google Health, enables Americans to collate information about their medical histories in one easily accessible site, storing such data as vaccinations, illnesses, procedures, prescriptions and blood tests.

Users can also import records from the small number of health care providers and chemists that have so far signed on as partners in the scheme, set up text message alerts via a "virtual pillbox" to remind them to take prescriptions or research health questions.


Google...also addressed security concerns, promising users they alone will be able to see and manage information on their password protected profiles and that "Google will not sell, rent, or share your information (identified or de-identified) without your explicit consent, except in the limited situations described in the Google Privacy Policy, such as when Google believes it is required to do so by law."


Nevertheless, the emerging sector of electronic medical record storage has alarmed some privacy advocates who see it as uncharted territory and question what legal remedy users would have were their data to be accessed or misused by an unauthorised party.

"It's the Wild West online," Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist who founded the nonprofit advocacy group said. "The risks are massive." She said Microsoft consulted while designing HealthVault and agreed to routine privacy audits, the first of which is to be completed in June.

"We think it is critical to actually have external proof technology companies working with medical records are doing what they say they do," Miss Peel said. "Talk is cheap."

Clearly, this is a technology and service that is here to stay. Now comes the hard part: ensuring consumers' most private information is safe and secure.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

No comments: