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From its inception, Google has always had a deep philosophy of fast and open access to the most relevant information possible, in such a way that extends way past just the billions of web pages that have been published to also include the tens of millions of books that represent the history of human achievement and also with plans to record and index the human genome of all living people. And given the extremely dysfunctional record keeping of the medical and health industry and the sheer number of people who die each year because the correct medical history was not continuously stored in one central location for each and every patient, in 2008 Google launched Google Health as a personal health information centralized service; otherwise known as personal health record services. Sadly it was withdrawn from service in 2011. The idea of the services was to allow Google Health users to volunteer their health records. They could do this either manually or they could log into their individual accounts at partnered health services providers. The goal was always to merge potentially separate health records into the one profile centralized by Google Health.
The volunteered information can include any health condition which may or may not require specific medications; any allergies or laboratory results related to them with a history to be built up over the decades of medical treatments by patients. It is all about a merged centralized health record to include any relevant information on any health conditions as well as any possible reactions between drugs used for treating conditions and allergies. Google Health developed its own API which is based on the subset of the Continuity of Care Record System.
Google Health was Always a Great Idea
Google Health began its life when it was conceived of in 2006 and was approved for resources to be allocated to it by its Google parent company. Then in 2008 the service was launched with a two-month pilot test. One thousand six hundred patients of The Cleveland Clinic became the first users and then on May 20, 2008 the Google Health system was released as a beta test to the general public for further testing. After getting a facelift in September 2010 Google updated Google Health only to later announce in June 2011 that it was to abandon the service due to the lack of interest shown by users and was to retire the service by first of January 2012 and that data will be available for download by those members who did bother to enter their data up until January 2013.
Typical of almost all Google sponsored projects, Google Health was free to use for consumers; the main difference being that Google Health’s service contained no advertising. As is typical, Google never did reveal how it planned to perhaps make money with the service, though a Wall Street Journal analysis suggested that Google hasn’t ruled advertising out for the future. Certainly Google has filed an U.S. Patent Application which does make mention of the advertising carrying potential of the service.
Google Health was Always About Centralizing Health Records
With Google’s powerful support behind the Google Health service, members could import their medical and drug prescription information from partners Anvita Health, Allscripts, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, CVS Caremark, The Cleveland Clinic, Healthgrades, Longs Drugs, Drugs.com, Quest Diagnostics, RxAmerica, Medco Health Solutions and Walgreens and whilst not an exhaustive list, was certainly an adequate start for importing information electronically because of the inherent accuracy of the information imported.
Unfortunately users with their health records stored with other providers had to manually enter their data which by itself is a recipe for disaster with incomplete and inaccurate data take up by unskilled people. There was a paid for service available offered by Google Health partners to perform importing of data into the service. Whilst not cheap, MediConnect Global was such a partner and for a fee they would retrieve a member’s complete medical records from around the world and update data to their profile.
From January 2010 the Withings WiFi Body scale was integrated with Google Health so that users could seamlessly import their weight and body mass data to their online profile in Google Health. Subsequent to this, and because of popular demand requests, Google health began to partner with tele-health service providers so as to allow their members to synchronize and the share the data during tele-health consultations together with their online Google Health records. MDLiveCare and Hello Health are two of these partnerships.
There have been the usual privacy concerns about Google Health even though it is an opt-in service that can only access medical information which has been volunteered by its individual members. And while it does not use or retrieve any part of a person’s medical records without their explicit consent being given, Google health does encourage users to assist with setting up the profiles of other individuals; typically for the aged family members. This means that the people championing these privacy concerns are placing the aged and infirm population at great risk as being preferred to family members and carers assisting the aged to complete their Google Health records.
Google Health is not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. As such, HIPAA privacy laws are not applicable. Even the New York Times acknowledged that people did not shy away from the Google Health service because of any qualms about their personal health information being secured by a large technology company, and many other commentators have contended that Google Health has much greater data security than the illegible paper recording systems used by the medical “profession”.
Systems like Google Health are known as “personal health record” (PHR) services. Competitors include Microsoft’s “HealthVault”, an open-source project called Indivo and Dossia. Other open source and proprietary type PHR systems compete outside the United States.
In response to Google’s announcement of closing Google Health, in July 2011 Microsoft released a tool designed to help people migrate their Google Health data to a Microsoft HealthVault account.