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Healthcare IT gets Googled

December 12, 2008
by kate
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A PHR is born.

Earlier this week, Healthcare Informatics hosted a webinar entitled, “Google Initiatives for Healthcare” in which one user and a few representatives from the Mountain View, Calif.-based company spoke about its functionalities in the healthcare space.

Nathan Sackett, network administrator at Brooks Memorial Hospital, 99-bed, not-for-profit facility based in Dunkirk, N.Y., discussed how the recent installation of Google Message Security has benefitted the hospital. The product, he said, delivers mail quickly and reliably while providing high availability, spam support, a spool manager that can aid in disaster recovery, and global threat visibility.

Sundar Raghavan spoke about the productivity services offered by Google Enterprise, which utilizes cloud computing to store multiple programs on a centralized server, while Vijay Koduri touted the benefits of Google Search Appliance. This tool, he says, offers an alternative way to integrate data across the organization, as it can host file shares, intranets, databases, enterprise applications and content management.

But despite the potential benefits offered by these services, which are hosted by Google and, therefore, are designed to eliminate set-up and maintenance costs, the main attraction of the presentation, undoubtedly, was Google Health.

When Google launched its personal health record (PHR) this past spring, it made quite a splash in the industry. As soon as the announcement was made at HIMSS — where Google’s modest booth was regularly flooded with traffic — the speculation began, providing endless fodder for bloggers and inciting all kinds of concerns from experts in the field. Many feared patients’ privacy would be threatened, while others (openly) questioned the search engine Giant’s qualifications in the specialized field of health IT.

About six months later, Google Health, which officially became available to the public in May, certainly appears to be holding its own. Referred to by Product Marketing Manager Missy Krasner as “a PHR aggregator with a platform model,” the tool enables users to import medical records, store information online at a centralized location, and share it as they see fit. Users can delete information at any point, and consent is required to share data; while Google Health itself is not regulated by HIPAA, it does work with HIPAA-covered providers and is governed by the Federal Trade Commission to ensure privacy.

What has helped legitimize the product is its third-party alliances with pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens; payers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; and most impressively, hospital organizations like the Cleveland Clinic. And, in the typical Google style of never resting on laurels, further plans are in the works to develop partnerships with associations like the American Heart Association and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which would provide users with even more resources.

Google Health, of course, isn’t the only player in the field; Microsoft Health Vault and Revolution Health are among other PHRs offered, and it’s very likely that more will enter the fray. With trends pointing increasingly toward patient-centric care models, the demand for technologies like electronic records is only going to increase, and healthcare organizations need to be ready. According to findings from a study conducted by Morpace Inc., 27 percent of American adults say they are very likely to create an online PHR to help track their medical history and medications.

As we head into 2009, the question is not longer if products like Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault will have an impact in the PHR space, but how much. Patients are taking the reins when it comes to managing health; but what about the hospitals and health systems out there (aside from the Cleveland Clinics)? Is your organization ready to navigate the waters of personal records? Send me an e-mail if you’d like to discuss this further.

And grab an oar — if you haven’t already.

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