Do You Trust Google With Your Health Information?
Google Blogoscoped has what it claims are screenshots of Google Health, which is intended to be a place to store health records electronically. Among the categories of information that would be entered, judging from the images, are conditions and symptoms, medications, allergies, surgeries and procedures, test results, age, height, and weight, and family history. A separate “Services and Health Guide” section is described as follows:
“If your medical providers or pharmacy offer secure downloading of medical records, you can find and add your records to a profile. You can also browse for websites that connect securely to Google Health and provide services for managing your health care…When you add some information to your profile, Google Health will search trusted medical sources and create a health guide targeted for you. … Google Health will check for relevant updates to your guide whenever you add new information to the profile.” You can use the health guide, Google writes, to learn about drug interactions, treatments, tests and preventive measures.”
It is not clear from this description where exactly the the guide information will come from or how up-to-date it will be, except that it was “built in collaboration with safe-med.com. Why not MedlinePlus, a non-commercial conusmer health resource from the National Library of Medicine? I also wonder how many healthcare institutions would be willing to allow the export of their data to Google Health.
My biggest concern is obviously confidentiality and security of the records. My workplace has an electronic medical records system, to which access is severely (and appropriately) limited, and the viewing of patient records is continuously audited to make sure nobody is accessing records they are not allowed to view (such as those of a friend or family member). There is an entire office that does nothing but deal with privacy concerns. Even with these known measures, in an environment of dedicated healthcare professionals, we are reminded that staff members have been fired in the past for violating the rules. Would security and surveillance be any better in a Google system, or even as good? Remember when search data of AOL users was released? Do you remember just how much you could infer about a person from that data? Imagine if your personal health record was hacked, sexually transmitted diseases, psychiatric medications, and all. I suspect this has a way to go before it’s acceptable to an appropriately skeptical consumer.