Monday, May 19, 2008

Google making us sick? Will you have to sue your spouse for your health?

Google Health opened for "business" today. Lots of people are wondering: is this Good, bad, or the end of the world as we know it?

Will Google make us even sicker?

Here's a big problem with PHRs (Public Health Record repositories) like Google Health that no one seems to be mentioning: users have to keep their information up-to-date and accurate. Gosh, does anyone ever make a mistake in their personal bookkeeping? If you hire someone to do your taxes, should you hire someone to keep your Google health records accurate, useful and up-to-date?

If your spouse errs when entering in all that data after your last doctor visit, and a third-party makes a mistake that affects your health, what recourse will you have? Will insurance cover the health problems caused by what is essentially YOUR error? Will you have to sue your spouse to get your HMO to cover your problem? If that sounds extreme, realize there are already lots of lawsuits among family members to try to get insurance paid. Sad, but true. I remember a friend who accidentally hit a family member with their car, and the lawyers said it was typical for the injured party to have to sue to get insurance in such a case (they did, and won).

What LEGAL privacy protections do you get? None?

A similar issue: Your HIPAA health information protections don’t apply there. Google execs say the user controls their info and it won’t be shared without a patient OK. Nice "promise," but it’s not HIPAA. In fact, the Google TOS says "... HIPAA does not apply to the transmission of health information by Google to any third party."

The upside, of course, is that you can add to your records. Consumers of these services even have the potential to influence medical practices in a positive way by creating more usefully detailed profiles. Greg Simon, president of the nonprofit FasterCures medical organization and a member of the Google health advisory council, points out:

"If I bring all the information my doctor has onto my site, I can then add information my doctor does not have — my diet, workout routine, family history."
Google's partners (some shown at right) allow you to share lab results as well as prescription information. What you can do here includes:
  • Health profile
  • Import medical records
  • Explore health services
  • Doctor search
Google has entered a competitive field: several of the few dozen health record sites tracked by the journal Informatics Review are no longer in operation. While it may seem they haven't thought this out (past the money Google will make), it seems likely they will be the one that sticks around, and hopefully fix the inevitable problems.

Has Google thought this out beyond the money they can make?

And then of course there is the $57 billion or so big Pharma spends on promotion each year. GOOG made $5.19 billion last quarter, and would love to add more of Pharma's pie to it's own revenues.

However, probably the biggest area of online scams involves health and pharma: viagra, Mesothelioma, etc. Besides simply selling drugs illegally, or selling fake brand names, by some measures, hundreds of spam sites are created every day just to show these ads and make money when people click on them. It will be interesting to see how the biggest enabler of all these schemes--Google--will be working with advertising shown through Google health.

Google's hidden march into the financial markets?

This seems to be another step on Google's possible hidden march into the financial markets. They have so much money to manage, and such a great core competency at managing information, won't they eventually start moving investments around based on automated reading of news? It's already a huge growth area for the upper-end investment services. Everyone on Wall Street wants to make money-making moves before the next guy. What if Google gets better at this than anyone else? What's next, world domination?

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