GoogleHealth: Improving Access to Health Care, or Destroying People's Privacy?

With the emergence of GoogleHealth and Microsoft HealthVault, many people have been speculating as to whether the ability of individuals to post their health records online will be beneficial or harmful.

For individuals who are interested in accessing their health records, there is a huge benefit to having them be available online: you can access them at a very low or no cost.  Through GoogleHealth, you can request your health records through any one of the GoogleHealth Partners.  Before this service was available, most people, particularly those who did not have easy access to a primary care physician, were forced to request records from their insurance companies.  Those who did not have insurance or a regular doctor were left with few options.  However, with GoogleHealth, all individuals have the ability to build their own health profile.  For those who did not have access to their health records, creating their own online profile makes the process much easier.

GoogleHealth also enables you to search for physicians and hospitals online, and provides locations as well as directions for them.  This aspect of GoogleHealth could have the very positive effect of improving people's access to primary care.  Depending on how many doctors and hospitals register with Google, many people could be able to find a health care provider in their area and have access to a service they might not have otherwise known about.

As The Opportunity Agenda discusses in numerous reports, specifically Unequal Health Outcomes in the United States and Identifying and Evaluating Equity Provisions in State Health Care Reform, there is a significant and widespread problem of unequal access to health care in the U.S.  It is crucial that everyone, especially a website like Google that is able to reach so many people, commits to tackling this problem.  If Google can convince many primary care physicians and facilities, particularly those in deprived communities, to register on the website, then people will be able to find more health care facilities, not just the ones that are in their immediate area.  This could do a great deal to improve people's access to health care.

The main concern people have with GoogleHealth and Microsoft HealthVault is preserving their privacy.  If health records go online, then they are susceptible to hackers and individuals who want to have access to them for a malicious purpose.  However, insurance providers are still subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), even if they are looking for health records on the Internet.  Google has also issued a Third Party Developer Privacy Policy that contains privacy restrictions to protect users' health records.

Even with all of these privacy restrictions, and the use of a secure "https" site, a spokesperson from Google admits that records cannot be 100% secure.  If people are deeply concerned with preventing their health records from being made public, they should think twice about putting their records online.

Adding another perspective to the debate, a recent posting on Trusted.MD poses the question of whether or not GoogleHealth will have any effect whatsoever.  Trusted.MD points out that Personal Health Record, a data type that Google is supporting via GoogleHealth, has been available for a long time and yet it hasn't caught on in the same way that online shopping and free e-mail have.

Will the potential harm out way the potential benefits of using GoogleHealth or Microsoft HealthVault?  Or will these sites have any consequences, good or bad?  Time will tell.

Tags: Health care (all tags)

Comments

1 Comment

Re: GoogleHealth: Improving Access to Health Care,

I think it'll be different simply BECAUSE it's Google.

by MNPundit 2008-06-18 09:54AM | 0 recs

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