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April 06, 2009

CVS and Google Health: adding lots of prescription data to PHRs

Users of Google Health can now import their CVS prescription data into their PHRs.  Not the first pharmacy to hook up with Google Health, but perhaps the largest.  The more info there is in a PHR, the better; incomplete records only lead to misinformation or lack of information, and when we're talking about prescription medications, that can lead to unfortunate interactions and an additional burden of illness.  Until human nature and the medical-industrial complex can both be sufficiently tweaked to yield more rationality most of the time, the aggregation and sharing of data in this fashion (if it can be done in a comprehensive, secure, and auditable manner since, after all, we don't trust people to remember what color their pills are and report accurately to a string of docs and pharmacists, much less to update their own prescription drug data on line) is, on balance, a positive development.  Google Health does not have access to all pharmacy data in the country yet, but give them time, and they will. 

TechCrunch recognizes that privacy issues abound here, as they do for the rest of Google Health.  For me, these issues are heightened by the fact that, as far as I know, Google still insists that it is beyond the reach of HIPAA and the ARRA/HITECH son-of-HIPAA provisions.  For me (as for most), these risks may well be outweighed by the benefits.  (I think my medical records are of less interest to inquiring minds than those of Britney Spears or the "octomom" -- but I recognize the concerns of folks with medical conditions that info on chronic conditions may get into the wrong hands/be used inappropriately, e.g., for employemnt decisions, though I think the solution to that problem should be in improvements to employment discrimination law.)

The privacy nuts and technophobes out there won't sign up for this service, despite the (mostly) good privacy track record of the financial industry; at the other end of the spectrum, the early adopters are already all over this.  My expectation is that general adoption is going to depend more on easy porting of medical records beyond prescription histories.  As e-Patient Dave so vividly demonstrated recently, unfortunately, we're not quite ready for prime time in that department.  The porting may work, but the data that gets ported may or may not be accurate and up to date.  I'd be interested in learning more about the accuracy of the data that gets imported to the Google Health from the various pharmacy systems before being willing to rely on this system as an improvement over the status quo.

A tip of the hat to Richard Dale, the Venture Cyclist, for pointing me to the TechCrunch post today.  

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

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