- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Google Inc. is testing a new health service that allows users to store their medical records online in a move it says will empower patients, but privacy experts say the company must address legal concerns before making the program widely available to the public.

The Mountain View, Calif., search giant is partnering with the Cleveland Clinic in a pilot program that will store the records of between 1,500 and 10,000 patients at the Ohio-based nonprofit hospital. Information on medical conditions, prescriptions and allergies will be exchanged between the clinic’s own electronic record system and a password-protected Google account.

The clinic already provides electronic records to more than 100,000 patients with an internal system called MyChart. Those participating in the pilot program can access their information through Google’s health portal at any time. Eventually, patients will be able to share their records with health care providers outside of the Cleveland Clinic Health System.

Both partners tout the project as a way to give patients more freedom in the digital age.

“As the volume of medical information available to patients increases, it becomes more important for doctors and patients to use this information in a way that empowers the patient to be more collaborative with their care providers,” said Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic.

A Google spokeswoman said the company was not elaborating on its plans beyond the pilot program, and would not say when it plans to roll out its health service to the general public.

“We believe patients should be able to easily access and manage their own health information,” Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience, said in a statement provided by the Cleveland Clinic.

Other technology firms are wading into the health space. Revolution Health Group, led by AOL co-founder Steve Case, lets users create an online portfolio of health information. Microsoft’s HealthVault service is similar.

But like those products, Google’s health service has sparked privacy concerns. Chief among them is that, unlike health care providers, a third party like Google may not be subject to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a California nonprofit.

“Just because it’s coming from the Cleveland Clinic doesn’t mean it’s covered under HIPAA once it’s at Google,” Ms. Dixon said.

HIPAA protects doctor-patient privilege and prevents patient information from being used or sold for marketing purposes, among other protections.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Ms. Dixon said of non-doctor-managed electronic medical records.

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