Originally published on Advocate.com February 29 2008 1:00 AM ET
Google Inc. won't
sell ads to support a new Internet service that stores
personal medical information, CEO Eric Schmidt said Thursday
in the search giant's first detailed comments about a
venture that has raised privacy concerns.
Google Health as a platform for users to manage their
own records, such as medical test results and prescriptions.
It would be accessed with a user name and password,
just like a Google e-mail account, and could be called
up on any computer with an Internet connection.
benefit, Schmidt said, is the portability of records from
one health care provider to the next. He repeatedly
said no data would be shared without the consumer's
''Our model is
that the owner of the data has control over who can see
it,'' Schmidt said at the annual conference of the
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
''And trust, for Google, is the most important
currency on the Internet.''
The service is
not yet available publicly, but Schmidt said it will be an
open system where third parties can build direct-to-consumer
services like medication tables or immunization
reminders. Google intends to profit by increasing
traffic to its search site -- the same approach it
used with the ad-free Google News section.
View, Calif.–based company isn't the only one vying
for the personal health record market. Microsoft Corp.
last year introduced a service called HealthVault, and
AOL cofounder Steve Case is backing Revolution Health,
which offers similar online tools.
service has ads, but they aren't personalized based on
health records or searches. Revolution Health does not
have ads on its health records service.
Google has raised
privacy concerns in other areas by tailoring ads based
on search requests, and its e-mail service scans the text of
messages to flash pitches from businesses that seem to
offer corresponding products or services.
problem with these online health systems, privacy advocates
say, is that they aren't covered by the federal Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly
called HIPAA. The 1996 privacy law requires patient
notification when their records are being subpoenaed,
among other things.
''Once you take
sensitive health care information outside of the health
care sector, it loses important protections that people have
come to expect,'' said Pam Dixon, executive director
of the nonprofit World Privacy Forum. ''Your physician
has taken a Hippocratic Oath, and they are bound to
have your best interests in mind. A publicly traded company
is supposed to have shareholders in mind first.''
Dixon said even
the issue of consenting online to the release of
information is muddy.
''I think we've
all consented to things online we haven't meant to simply
by failing to check or uncheck a box,'' she said.
''Something else very big in HIPAA is you can withdraw
consent. Will there be a way for people to undo the
consent afterward? If you have accidentally consented to
release the results of an HIV test or a cancer test, you
might need to take that back.''
Google Health would be at least as secure as current
''In the Google
implementation, your personal health information will not
be given to anyone without their explicit permission, which
is not true completely for HIPAA-compliant systems,''
he said. ''If we get a subpoena, we always check our
judgment as to whether the subpoena is narrow enough.
If we think it's a fishing expedition, we will fight it in
court. That has worked well for us so far.''
the service as helping both doctors and the increasing
number of patients who use the Internet for their own
''There are 6
billion people who would benefit from the system. Only 1.5
billion or so are online,'' Schmidt said. ''A reasonable
goal will be that every single person who has access
to the Internet would consider having a personal
The company is
testing the service with about 1,370 volunteers at the
Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit medical center. Schmidt
wouldn't say when it will go public. It will be
available first in the United States and then expand
partners include retailers with pharmacies like Wal-Mart
Stores Inc., Walgreen Co., and Duane Reade Inc., and health
care providers such as Aetna Inc. and Cedars-Sinai
Medical Center. (AP)