Diabetic Profile & Tracking: Subtypes, Medications, HIPAA, Public Health Records
At the end of April 2008, Google (the same web site that you use to search for the nearest grocery store and movie show times or to learn more about a company and its products) launched Google Health. Google's intent is to help users of the service store and manage all their health information in one place and for free. Their only requirement: you need to have a Google username and password.
Having used and followed Google for many years, I decided to test-drive the service. Initially, I was a bit lost as to where I should start, so I did what all web surfers do when they are lost: start clicking. The first place I clicked was “Import medical records,” a link that sounds a bit scary just from looking at it.
Click, click, click…
I connected my pharmacy online account to my Google Health account, to get a feel for how this worked. I was taken out of Google Health, into Walgreen’s web site and after entering my username and password and a few confirmation steps, I was back where I started. As a result, now I am able to refill my prescriptions at Walgreens from my Google Health main page: not bad.
I proceeded with "Add to this Google Health profile." Date of birth and Sex were easy to enter. Race was a good one: there is no field for 'Hispanic' or 'Latino,' so I entered 'White.' I suspect Google Health may not initially be a huge success among Latinos. Blood type, weight and height: all were also easy to enter.
I then clicked on "Conditions" –that one sounded straightforward enough. They offer a comprehensive search that takes a while to scroll through. Still, type 1.5 diabetes or LADA (the one I have) was not listed, so I settled for type 1 diabetes.
I proceeded to add "Medications" I take: Novolog and Simvastatin -easy enough. No known allergies: next! "Procedures" sounded like another easy area: I had only had my tonsils and adenoids removed ages ago. "Test Results" was straightforward too: HbA1c and a few other numbers I had handy from my most recent blood work, I was able to enter easily. "Immunizations," as always, gave me a hard time: those are not records you have in your drawer by the computer.
The "Medical contacts" section felt like it needed more work on Google's part. As it stands, it is a bit like a glorified Google Maps search for medical clinics/offices, which you can save locally. It didn’t help me find my specific doctors: for that I had to do some manual work, entering the contact information by hand.
"Explore health services" is an area in Google Health that shows a lot of potential. Still, as pointed out by David Kibbe, MD, MBA, most of the current health services offered through Google Health are "only mildly useful." A couple of examples I found that caught my attention were: ePillBox, a service that creates a medication schedule based on your prescriptions and your preferences and a Heart Attack Risk Calculator by the American Heart Association. It must be noted that Google does not take responsibility for your use of any of these services, as stated on their Terms of Service.
Privacy concerns at the top of the list
So what can we make of this great promise by Google Health? I asked a number people with diabetes to find out. In spite of the potential to reduce health-care costs and prevent medical errors, the issue of privacy came up consistently among all of the respondents as the main concern. One of them went as far as to share that she had profound concerns over the privacy of her information.
However, Google is not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"). Furthermore, Google Health is a Patient Health Record (PHR). According to Patient Privacy Rights, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring Americans control all access to their health records, "no law ensures the information in your PHR will be kept private and confidential." This means you have to believe in Google's word.
So what have we in the end? Google is among the companies that can take the US in the direction of having most people accessing their medical records electronically. The question is: do you trust them enough to give them your medical information? That is an answer that only you can give.