Google unveils prototype of personal health record

August 24, 2007

Imagine a computerized healthcare system in which insurers, pharmacies, hospitals, retail clinics, and doctors upload clinical information as it's generated to a patient's personal health record, or PHR.

Imagine a computerized healthcare system in which insurers, pharmacies, hospitals, retail clinics, and doctors upload clinical information as it's generated to a patient's personal health record, or PHR. Then imagine that Google, king of search engines, is somehow at the center of this data network.

The scenario is a little easier to picture now that Google has released a prototype of its long-anticipated PHR.

Portions of the prototype are published on a blog called Google Blogoscoped (blogoscoped.com). As PHRs go, it's pretty straightforward, breaking down a patient's record into familiar categories: Conditions and symptoms, medications, allergies, surgeries and procedures, test results, immunizations, family history, and personal stats like age, sex, and height. What's more innovative about this prototype PHR is its ability to create an individual "health guide" based on respected online health resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic, all compliments of the vaunted Google search engine. For example, the PHR could assemble articles for a newly diagnosed diabetic on managing his disease.

PHRs might not be useful on a massive scale if the only person entering the data is the patient himself. Just the most health literate and disciplined sorts would be up to the task of properly maintain his record. However, the prototype PHR contains a statement that holds the key to the technology's success: "If your medical providers or pharmacy offer secure downloading of medical records, you can find and add your records to a profile."

In other words, healthcare data can flow into the PHR from outside sources, relieving patients of most of the record keeping. By forging partnerships with health plans, pharmacies, and healthcare providers, Google could make these data transfers automatic, assuming that the patient okays it beforehand. Family physician and healthcare IT consultant David Kibbe likens such a data exchange to what's found in the banking industry, where a $100 withdrawal from an ATM machine anywhere in the country automatically appears in your online account. "It's that kind of network," says Kibbe.