Google Health Launched. Can We Entrust our Health to Google?

by , May 22, 2008

Google Health Service – to trust or not to trust.

Google has entered into the fray of online health record service via a simply branded service, Google Health. Although this is nothing new on the web parlance, having witnessed other internet players with their own health-related initiatives, including Microsoft and WebMD, we could not simply discount the fact that this is Google taking an initiative on health related issues. We could not help but ask, is the web populace ready to trust Google, the biggest internet industry, with the most vital personal information that we have? Has Google earned our trust enough to make it worthy of safekeeping our vital health information? These are just some of the questions that we might as well ask, as we try to take a deeper look into Google Health.

Google Health aims to empower us in managing our health information. And how does it propose to accomplish that? By providing us with a safe, secure and free platform where we can:

  • Organize our health information all in one place,
  • Gather our medical records from doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies,
  • Keep our doctors up to date about our health,
  • Be more informed about important health issues

Google Health proposes to store all this information in a secure and private environment. It even promises that it won’t sell our data. But for what purpose does this serve Google? And what assurance do we have that Google will not share this information to others without our prior consent?

Certainly, the terms of service was not reassuring a bit. Specifically the lines that says:

4. Use of Your Information
When you provide your information through Google Health, you give Google a license to use and distribute it in connection with Google Health and other Google services. However, Google may only use health information you provide as permitted by the Google Health Privacy Policy, your Sharing Authorization, and applicable law. Google is not a “covered entity” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the regulations promulgated thereunder (”HIPAA”). As a result, HIPAA does not apply to the transmission of health information by Google to any third party.

From what we could possibly deduce, those lines are enough reasons not to trust Google Health with our personal health information. By entrusting your health information to Google Health, you are giving Google the right to distribute your information in connection with Google Health and other Google services. What other Google services? Google Health failed to specify and there lies the ambiguity of the terms of services.

Further to this, Google was quick to add that Google Health is not a “covered entity” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Hence nothing would compel Google to distribute our health information.

But then of course, if you don’t mind entrusting your personal health information to Google, then by all means you are free to do so. If personal privacy is not a big deal to you and you don’t worry about Google possibly using your health information for other purposes, then you might actually like Google Health.

Those who are familiar with WebMD, might find Google Health’s interface a bit different though. For one, Google Health is simpler and straightforward and delves deeper into the power of its search engines. So, you can easily find doctors of various specializations by locality or regional areas.

In addition, you can also learn about your health issues and find helpful resources, import your medical records, find online tools for managing your health and even find for doctors with various specialization in Google Health service.

Technically, Google Health is a great service and you might find it very useful indeed. But I repeat, be a little cautious when using it.