Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Google Strikes Out

Yeah, that’s right. Google, the fabulously successful internet search giant, has been humbled in at least one market:

Online health records.

Like other tech companies before it, Google has learned the hard way that health care is a behemoth industry that is resistant to change its decades-old practices.

[By old practices I am referring here to health care financing and documentation; I’m not alluding to the pace of actual medical innovation, which seems to occur faster and faster with each passing headline.]

Google started the service, Google Health, in 2008. You can read the bulletin about its demise from the company here.

The idea is simple: Empower patients to upload their own health records online, stored in the “cloud,” so that they can be available anywhere anytime for use by the patient and whomever she chooses–doctor, nurse, specialist, consultant, physical therapist, yoga teacher, etc.

What’s not to like?

For one thing, privacy advocates worried about the security of such records. Libertarians worried about government and/or insurance companies using the records to screen out potentially unhealthy individuals to deny them coverage.

Perhaps the bigger barrier to adoption: inertia. Patients are very used to the idea of the doctor/practice/medical group/hospital keeping the records. It’s tradition, after all. One that’s apparently hard to shake.

As someone who works in this sector, I’ve increasingly come to feel that test results, lab values, even doctors’ notes that involve me should at the very least be shared with me. Freely and openly. Why should I have to jump through so many hoops to obtain them, like the dubious copying charges that health entities set up as a barrier to providing free documentation. Why not offer it all right up–electronically?

I keep an old fashioned paper record of my results. But I’ve never gone to the trouble of scanning the documents or uploading them to a cloud-based service like Google Health or Microsoft’s HealthVault.

Hmmm. I guess I can see why a pretty good idea like personalized online health records hasn’t panned out.


  1. well informed

    Kaiser has a very user-friendly system of electronic medical records. I was able to see the results of yesterday’s blood tests at their secure site last night, and they emailed me when the labs were ready to be viewed. Hopefully something like it will become more widely available for patients who want to be informed about their care. I only wish they put more of my medical record online instead of just the ‘basics’. E-mailing the doctor is also a great innovation that leads to better care more efficiently for me and my doctors.

  2. Norm

    I use Google health for my own records. It’s a bit of a pain to input everything, and it’s not easily integrated with hospital-based EHRs. I agree that it won’t be widely adopted, especially since now modern hospital systems have EHRs that can be accessed by patients for their own records. There’s good reason for a hospital to offer this service: if a patient wants an easily accessible and consistent record of their care they would be motivated to stick within a single system.

  3. Lucy

    cool post!

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