At long last, Google has asked for America's medical records.
This morning, during a dog-and-pony show at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, senior vice president/company poster child Marissa Mayer officially took the wraps off Google Health - a long-awaited/long-dreaded service for storing and sharing your personal health records.
"Google Health is our product that takes our users medical records and brings them online, where users can see them and control them and put them to good use in getting better health care," Mayer told a room full of reporters. "And I'm happy to say today that it's no longer just talk. We actually have a product."
Which means Google just released another beta.
If you're comfortable giving Google your health records - and you're in the States - you can do so at www.google.com/health. In some cases, you can import your records automatically - straight from medical institutions, pharmacies, and other health outfits already partnering with Google, including the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, Quest Diagnostics, and Longs Drugs Stores.
And once your records are imported, you can do stuff with them. If a woman named Diana gets sinusitis, for instance, she can ask Google to recommend medications, and Google will even go so far as to tell her which medications she might be allergic to.
Diana can also export records to various third-parties. She can send them to them to the American Heart Association, for instance, to assess her risk of a heart attack. Google has also released a Google Health API, giving any third party the power to develop such tools.
Naturally, Google insists that your records will not be shared with anyone you don't want them shared with. "Google Health cares about privacy and puts it into the control of each user," said Roni Zeiger, the Stanford-educated doctor who serves as Google Health product manager. "The user decides who should have access to the records and can revoke access at anytime. We will not sell any end user's data, and we will not share it with anyone unless [the user] specifically asks."
It should be noted, however, that you must share all or nothing. You can't share mere portions of your records - though Ziegler said that Google will explore "a more granular approach" in the future.
It's also worth noting that once you import your records to Google Health, they are not protected by the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In other words, the laws that guard your records while they're still in the hands of doctors do not apply once you give them to Larry and Sergey. As John Halamka, chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School, told us "The bottom line is: You have to put your trust in Google."
Google says it has no intention of serving ads based on your medical data. And though it may ship your Health data to other Google services, Ziegler told us that the company will always alert users before doing so. At the moment, if you import your records to Google Health, the company may add your doctors to your Gmail contact list.
But the big concern is that Google is already storing up to two years of your search history. It may be storing your email as well. If you upload your medical records, all this is linked together. Google may say it won't misuse all that data. But what happens when a subpoena arrives? Or a national security letter? Or a hack?
When we asked Ziegler these questions, he pointed out that the use of Google Health is entirely voluntary. "I don't want anyone using the service," he said, "unless they're completely comfortable using it."
So the choice is yours. You can share your medical history with Google. Or not. ®