/ 4 March 2008

Google health service won’t be ad-supported

Google will not use advertising to support its new internet health service, CEO Eric Schmidt said on Thursday in the search company’s first detailed public comments about a venture raising concerns among privacy advocates.

Schmidt said the service is merely a platform for American users to store their medical information. It will be an open system inviting third parties to build direct-to-consumer services such as medication tables or immunisation reminders. But Schmidt emphasised no data will be shared without the consumer’s consent.

”Our model is that the owner of the data has control over who can see it,” Schmidt said at the annual conference of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. ”And trust for Google is the most important currency on the internet.”

Schmidt described the service as helping doctors and the increasing numbers of patients who use the internet for their own medical research. He said surveys show more people trust what they find online than what they hear from physicians, and the service will give people control over their own health.

For example, they will be able to store X-rays taken at any number of facilities all on one online account, accessible from any computer.

The company is testing the service with about 1 370 volunteers at the Cleveland Clinic, a not-for-profit medical centre. The service is not yet available to the United States public, and Schmidt wouldn’t say precisely when it will be. However, he said the company was working hard to release it soon.

”The current trial is a couple of months. It seems to be doing extremely well in its first week,” he said.

The interface demonstrated at the conference has menu sections for several areas: health notices, drug interactions, health conditions, medications, allergies, immunisations, procedures and test results. It connects users with online research published about any condition they might have and notifies them of potential dangers like adverse drug interactions.

Schmidt said it enables consumer portability from doctor to doctor, and control over users’ own records.

Future partners included companies with pharmacies such as Wal-Mart Stores, Walgreen and Duane Reade, and healthcare providers such as Aetna and Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre. Schmidt wouldn’t specify what any particular company might contribute.

Google is counting on increased web traffic to make the site profitable without ads, Schmidt said. He compared it to Google News, which is also not ad-supported.

”We have a powerful, so-called vertical site that does something really neat,” Schmidt said. ”That person is more likely to use Google in its traditional ways and click on our ads.”

Privacy watchdogs have said Google already knows too much about its users. The company personalises ads by basing links on search requests, and its email service scans text to flash businesses that offer related services. — Sapa-AP