By Neil Versel
March 4, 2008 | ORLANDO, Fla.—In lifting the veil on the worst-kept secret in health care, Google chairman and chief executive Eric Schmidt has unleashed a fury of hope, punditry, and hype about the future of health-IT.
Schmidt introduced the beta version of Google Health last Thursday during a keynote address to the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting, calling the product more than a personal health record. “It’s really a platform for interacting with health data,” Schmidt said.
The description echoed the attitude of Microsoft regarding that company’s HealthVault, even though the health-IT community routinely lumps both products into the broad category of PHRs. “HealthVault is a consumer health platform,” Chris Sullivan, U.S. director of health care provider industry solutions for Microsoft, said at HIMSS. (See “Microsoft Debuts HealthVault.”)
For now, as widely reported a week earlier, Google will test Google Health with 1,500 to 10,000 patients at the Cleveland Clinic. Schmidt said Cleveland Clinic will output patient data from its Epic Systems MyChart Web portal. Once the information is in Google Health, patients will be able to annotate, enhance, and add to their records, as well as search the Web in the context of that information. “Google Health begins with search,” Schmidt said.
The test will run for approximately two months, though Schmidt would not commit to a date for a general release of what now is a beta product. Schmidt said the service will be at www.google.com/health, but for now, that URL brings up the health page on Google Co-op, a search-refining application that relies on users to label Web pages they like and trust.
Schmidt said that for Google Health, the Mountain View, Calif., company will not follow its primary business model of delivering targeted advertising based on patient data, nor will it mine patient records for advertising purposes. Instead, Schmidt hopes to drive Google Health users to other, revenue-producing, Google services.
HIMSS board member Barry Chaiken, M.D., a Boston physician informaticist, believes Google may have broken one of the logjams in development of regional health information organizations (RHIOs) by offering a centralized repository for patient data that might attract competing health care entities. “The RHIO problem is solved,” Chaiken told Digital HealthCare & Productivity. “[Schmidt] could absolutely revolutionize this space in a decade.”
But the company must stick to its pledge to protect individual health information from data-mining and advertising. “They can either keep it clean, or if they commercialize private health information, he will ruin this space for more than a decade,” Chaiken said.
Google also must find a way to entice the public to embrace the idea of having interactive PHRs. John Halamka, M.D., chief information officer of CareGroup Health care System, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated delivery network in Boston, said at HIMSS that 2.5 million people have used PHRs that CareGroup provides through its Web portal, and approximately 40,000 access the records each month. “Exactly forty-two have populated [the PHRs] themselves,” said Halamka, a member of the Google Health advisory council.
Schmidt said Google can change that by delivering a product that is not “too vertical” or “too specialized” like so many of the PHRs out there.
Google and the Cleveland Clinic, the eyes of health care are upon you.