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Google releases Google Health for medical records

Google on Monday unveiled Google Health, a long-anticipated U.S. health information service that combines the leading web company’s classic search services with a user’s personal health records online.

The password-protected service stores a user’s basic medical history and gathers relevant information connected to their health conditions.

One feature includes a link to help users find doctors by location or specialisation. The ”virtual pillbox” notifies patients when they need to take medications and warns of potential drug interactions.

The service includes links to major US pharmacies, doctors’ groups and medical testing labs.

Partners include Walgreen, Longs Drugs Stores, CVS Caremark, AllScripts, Quest Diagnostics and the Cleveland Clinic. The company had previously said it was working with health insurers such as Aetna and Wal-Mart Stores pharmacies.

Officials at the Mountain View, California-based company announced the long-anticipated service during a news conference to discuss developments in the company’s core search business.

”If anyone can demystify what health is, and make it fun … Google can,” Dr Michael Roizen, the chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic, a major private US medical group, said during the news conference at Google headquarters.

Patients would control access to their records, Google said.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice-president for search services and user experience, said the company would store personal health information on computers that are separate from the company’s other endeavors and had created an additional layer of security.

”We certainly have put in place the foremost privacy policy that we could construct,” Mayer said.

The site would allow patients to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, receive diagnostic results online, and instantly add their doctors’ email addresses to a list of contacts.

The electronic health records field remains in its early stages. For example, while medical providers are covered by US privacy laws, there is little in the way of established privacy, security and data usage standards for electronic personal health records despite decades of industry effort.

Google’s biggest rival, Microsoft, has introduced HealthVault, which gives users control over who sees the information. Among start-ups active in the field is Revolution Health, a company backed by former AOL chairperson Steve Case.

All are based on the notion that individuals should retain control over their data.

But privacy concerns and other perceived risks of online health records will remain until consumers become familiar with their benefits, Andrew Rocklin, a principal in the healthcare practice of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, said.

When tied to exercise, dieting or other wellness programmes, such records can give consumers extraordinary insights, he noted. – Reuters 2008

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