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June 13, 2008

Score one more for Google Health at the Hub of the Universe

Another Hub health care worthy has signed up with Google Health -- today's Boston Globe reports that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts joins Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center -- see John Halamka's GeekDoctor post -- in facilitating the download of patient data to Google Health PHRs. 

Per the Globe, BCBS
says that "Google wants to attract as many users as possible to its site, while Blue Cross-Blue Shield seeks to offer members an online tool."

Regarding attracting users to Google's site -- Google says it isn't serving ads on Google Health, but presumably that won't last for long, because that's how the Googleplex keeps humming.  The value of the online tool for BCBS members is limited so long as the data is limited to insurance company data.  If local provider networks -- beyond the BI Deac -- were to sign up, the value to individuals would be greater.  John Halamka (BI Deac CIO) also notes in a response to a comment on the blog post linked to above, that

The interesting advantage over Patientsite [the BI Deaconess PHR portal] that Google Health may develop is that it is a development platform which thousands of programmers can extend. I expect hundreds of new applications over the next 6 months that will enable patients to get decision support, graph/chart their data, and connect to home health devices like blood pressure cuffs/exercise machines. The utility of Google Health will be measured by the number [of] the patients who decide to use it based on the value add of these new applications.

The other elephant in the room is the question of privacy protection and the lack of HIPAA coverage for Google Health and its ilk.  There is, of course, a Google Health privacy policy, but that can be changed at any time in the future.  As an aside, not even full HIPAA protections would satisfy all of the privacy advocates out there -- some of whom suggest that patients add an addendum to any HIPAA form they sign (nice idea, but impractical and unadministrable).  See link to such a form in the comments on an earlier HealthBlawg post on the Google PHR.

There are legislative initiatives afoot in Washington that might address the PHR privacy issues from a legal perspective, though nothing is likely to pass this year.

I'm not running out to put my own BCBS records on Google Health just yet.

-- David Harlow

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