Everything Else

The Google doctor is in

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, says cloud computing is the next step: think
about all data and applications stored on the internet – including your medical
records. But at what cost, asks Stephen Murphy?

At the recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference in the US, Eric Schmidt discussed Google’s latest maneuver in its quest for world domination, Google Health. Predictably, more than a few eyebrows were raised over issues of trust and security.

The implications of the much-discussed Microsoft and Yahoo! merger (jokingly referred to as Microhoo) are yet to play out but, as in a chess game, the search leaders are still considering any number of strategic moves.

Once the goose that laid the golden egg, Google recently took a beating on the US stock market, with its share value tumbling more than $US300. This begs a couple of questions. Is Google Health a strategy designed to lift consumer confidence and shareholder value? Or is Google simply trying to weasel its way into every conceivable area of information stored in our business and personal lives?

Schmidt describes Google Health as a platform on which users can “manage their own records, such as medical test results and prescriptions.” He says, “It would operate with a username and password, just like Google email, and could be accessed from any computer with an internet connection”. A primary benefit is in transporting medical records from one healthcare provider to another. Schmidt insists no data will be shared without the consumer’s consent.

“Our model allows the owner of the data to control who can see it,” he says. He believes a primary benefit of the tool is the portability of records from one health care provider to the next. He insists no data will be shared without the consumer’s consent.

But the health industry is less than thrilled that Google is referring to patients as ‘consumers. “Please stop calling patients consumers,” was one response at the HIMSS conference. “Patients are people with illnesses or injuries who need medical care; consumers are people who choose to purchase goods or services.”

There’s also a sticky legal hurdle to overcome, in that a medical record is not actually a patient’s property. Schmidt says that Google prefers the model of shared control.

In plain English, this means that while the patient controls who sees the information in their medical records, their physician controls the information held in those records.

It seems to me that Google’s keenness to make information accessible is a tad one-sided. For years, Google’s mission statement has been to index all the world’s information. This once seemed a colossal undertaking, but today seems entirely achievable.

We can see a subtle but significant shift in Google’s goals. Schmidt openly positions Google as having the solutions to all life’s problems. “If you want answers to questions such as ’What job should I take?’ or ‘Which holiday is right for me this winter?’, ask Google.”

Could this be moving towards “Which medicine is best for me?” or “What hospital provides the best cover or treatment?” How does this model tie in with Google’s license to print money using ad-serving, and content and site targeting networks? How much does Google have to gain from creating niche micro-environments that openly target the health and pharmaceutical industries?

Perhaps the battle for our hearts and minds has now moved on to our most valuable asset: our health.

Stephen Murphy is the director of www.PayPerClick.net.au.

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