Google Health Manager Discusses User Feedback

By Neil Versel, contributing editor

November 4, 2008 | Google Health product manager Roni Zeiger remains highly optimistic about the fledgling but high-profile personal health record (PHR) service and data-aggregation platform, but is trying to assuage concerns about consumer privacy and tamp down expectations that the Internet search leader might be able to cure all that ails health care.

“A PHR and platform is necessary but not sufficient,” Zeiger says, echoing the words of national health-IT coordinator Robert Kolodner. (See “Kolodner et al Remain Optimistic for Health 2.0.”) Zeiger spoke to Digital HealthCare & Productivity shortly after appearing on stage with Kolodner and others at a health 2.0 conference in San Francisco. According to Zeiger, there have to be regular and secure data feeds from multiple sources, including physician and hospital electronic health records (EHRs), insurance companies, laboratories, and pharmacies.

Zeiger says that feedback from test users, largely based on a three-month trial with the Cleveland Clinic that ended in August, has been “surprising that it’s consistently supportive.” However, the chief complaint, according to Zeiger, is that users say, “I want to be able to get my data.” He also says consumers have consistently given him a single message: “We want more.”

Anecdotally, patients have regularly been asking doctors for electronic access to personal health information, something that runs counter to the deeply ingrained culture in medicine.

There also remains skepticism about a company like Google having access to such sensitive information. Zeiger says Google Health doesn’t have any plans to put ads on its pages, reiterating the promise made by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt at the 2008 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference. (See “Google CEO Discusses Google Health.”)

Zeiger says Google Health is being built on two fundamentals: transparency and choice. “We promise that we won’t sell their data, ever,” he says. This runs counter to Google’s corporate strategy of monetizing Internet search results, but Schmidt said Feb. 28 that he expects Google Health to drive users to other, revenue-producing Google services, including the main search engine.

“We won’t share their data unless they tell us it’s OK,” Zeiger adds. He notes that the company has published privacy and security guidelines that Google Health partners must follow. The focus is squarely on consumer control of data, based on opt-in consent.

Google Health also touts a recent partnership with PDX Inc. (Fort Worth, Texas), a company that aggregates data for about 65 pharmacy chains so they can share prescription information in real time. PDX provides patients with medication records through its pharmacy customers and its Web portal. The company is making prescription data available for import into Google Health, starting with customers of the New York City-based Duane Reade pharmacy chain.

“Fifty million-plus people will be able to access their medication histories in ways that weren’t possible before,” Zeiger says. That is a while off, however. Right now, Google Health’s role is “helping to build the pipes” for interoperable data exchange.

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