Google launches groundbreaking foray into arena of patient health information

ORLANDO Wielding its titanic scale as the Internet’s leading worldwide information conduit and web portal, Google, Inc., is linking up with such big pharmacy chains as Walgreens and Wal-Mart and other health care providers in a groundbreaking foray into the world of patient records and health information technology. The result could significantly accelerate the nationwide evolution of data-driven health care and shift more decision-making power into the hands of information-empowered patients.

On Thursday, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Google Health, the company’s much-discussed foray into the field of personal health information and patient-controlled data exchange. Schmidt said the new venture would provide a password-protected, web-based platform through which patients, doctors, pharmacists and medical labs could share personal health information.

The result could be a truly portable system of patient records—a system that Google says would give patients direct access to their own health information, and provide physicians, pharmacies and other health providers a holistic window into a patient’s entire medical history. Privacy concerns aside, such a network could help prevent many prescribing errors, duplicate prescriptions or medical tests or confusion over a patient’s therapy among multiple health providers. Armed with new information, patients could also gain more direct control over the factors that impact their health and wellbeing.

Schmidt said Google is partnering with Walgreens, Wal-Mart, health insurers, hospitals and Quest Diagnostics, among other companies, to create a password-protected online storage and retrieval system for patient health records–-including lab results, prescription records and drug history, physicians’ input and other data. Last week, the company unveiled the first plank of the new venture—a data-sharing alliance with The Cleveland Clinic.

Google’s chief executive officer is insisting the new service will safeguard patients’ health records and put control in the hands of patients themselves. Nevertheless, some privacy advocates have expressed concerns over the potential damage that could arise if the password-protected system is cracked.

Many of the companies allied with Google have yet to formally reveal their own plans for the system. However, Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin freely described the system’s potential benefit.

“I think this is another step toward engaging the patient and making it easier for them to take control of their health care,” Polzin told Drug Store News. “That’s where health care is heading. Part of controlling the costs in health care is providing patients with access to information.”

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