Ariz. picked for Google health-file experiment

14 Nov Ariz. picked for Google health-file experiment

Arizona Republic, By Ken Alltucker, November 13, 2008
Arizona seniors will be pioneers in a Medicare program that encourages patients to store their medical histories on Google or other commercial Web sites as part of a government effort to streamline and improve health care. The federal agency that oversees Medicare selected Arizona and Utah for a pilot program that invites patients to store their health records on the Internet with Google or one of three other vendors. The program allows patients to easily share their medical histories, which now often must be provided separately to doctors, hospitals, labs or pharmacies. That could help patients if they switch doctors, pick up prescriptions or get care at an emergency room. Medicare’s program is one part of the health-care industry’s push to modernize medical record-keeping using information technology. Advocates say electronic records can help reduce medical errors that occur when a doctor doesn’t know a patient’s history. But some have raised privacy concerns because there is no federal law that restricts how third-party vendors such as Google can use health records. “An electronic record can easily follow a patient to a new city or a specialist across town,” said Kerry Weems, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The purpose is not to save money but to improve quality of health.” Health-care officials estimate 80 percent or more of doctors offices do not have digital records… Google is a relative newcomer to electronic medical records, having launched its Google Health initiative in May. Missy Krasner, Google Health’s product-marketing manager, said the search engine’s widespread availability makes it easy for consumers who are interested in storing their personal-health records for free. Some watchdog groups are worried that there is little regulation over personal-health records. Google Health, for example, tells consumers that it does not sell, rent or use a consumer’s health information without consent. The search-engine occasionally uses aggregate data to publish trend statistics, but such trend data cannot identify an individual, according to Google Health’s privacy policy.