Google Health trials finally launching

If you were worried about your privacy when Google read your Gmail to show relevant ads, you're really going to hate Google Health. The pilot program for Google Health will store the health records of 1,500 to 10,000 patients at the Cleveland Clinic, a not-for-profit medical center. Each profile will include information about prescriptions, allergies and medical histories and will be accessed with a Google Account — the same login used for all of Google's services, including Gmail. There's no word on when the project will open to a wider audience, but Marissa Mayer — who replaced previous Google Health head Adam Bosworth — says the project will launch in 2008.

Storing health records online is nothing new. Most hospitals computerized their records long ago. The new bit is allowing patients access to their data from anywhere. Interestingly, third-party services like Google Health aren't currently covered by HIPAA, the federal health privacy law that establishes strict protocols for how health data can be shared. For example, the current law requires doctors and hospitals to notify patients when subpoenaed for a medical record. Once medical records are transferred to a service like Google Health — a storage service, not a medical provider — it could be easier for outside parties to obtain medical records.

In other words, Congress is sure to get involved. But wait a moment: What's the fuss all about? Who really needs this service? The Cleveland Clinic is an ideal testbed because many of its patients are retirees who migrate to Arizona and Florida for part of the year, away from their regular doctors who hold their health records. Aside from that group, how many people need portable health records in the first place? Google, Microsoft, and others are all pursuing this market avidly, but I don't see anyone stopping to ask how healthy a business it is.