Thursday, August 16, 2007

Google preparing ehealth portal initiative

Google is planning a product that it hopes will overhaul the way patients, doctors, vendors and pharmaceutical companies manage their medical information online. Dubbed the Google Health Scrapbook, the product is in developmental stages now and there is no certainty that it will be launched. Google executives met last week with their counterparts at WebMD in New York to pull them in as a partner for the new online service. They plan to pitch the product to other potential partners in the coming weeks.

The plan, as it stands now, calls for there to be four different directories for each different type of user. The prospect of listing a separate directory for medical devices seems to have been scrapped. Users will be able to log in with their own account information and do things such as add a new medical provider, check their medical records or pay their bills.

The product would also provide information about hospitals such as the frequency that a hospital performs a specific type of procedure or which hospitals perform which procedures most often.

Aside from WebMD, Google is hoping to partner with Intuit on the product. Intuit currently offers consumers a software program that helps them keep track of their medical expenses. The company has already met with the CEO of AllScripts LLC, Glen Tullman, and representatives of Epic Systems Corp., which has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Involved in the project is Missy Krasner, a project manager who joined Google earlier this year. She was previously a top official in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Adam Bosworth is rumored to be the one directing the company's overall health initiatives.

Google observers who have been expecting a major Google Health initiative to be announced in May were surprised that the company’s health-related release was Google Co-op. Google Co-op is a social search product focused around vertical areas such as health, autos and travel. Its health directory allows users to bookmark interesting pages and add them into the directory, which can then be viewed by others. It also allows users to subscribe to feeds from a variety of sources such as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic.

A Google press official declined to comment specifically on their plans. The press official released this statement: "Health has been an area of interest at Google for some time. We have been doing a variety of research in the health area, including how to improve the quality of health-related search results. Google Co-op is one reflection of that. We continue to look for more ways to benefit our users in the area of health, but we do not have any products to announce at this time. As part of our efforts, we work with many companies in formal and informal ways.”

If the company’s Google Health Scrapbook launches, its health information offering will immediately go far beyond what is currently available to its users via Google Co-op.

Google's Personal Health Record Initiative

The social-networking revolution is coming to health care, at the same time that new Internet technologies and software programs are making it easier than ever for consumers to find timely, personalized health information online. Patients who once connected mainly through email discussion groups and chat rooms are building more sophisticated virtual communities that enable them to share information about treatment and coping and build a personal network of friends. At the same time, traditional Web sites that once offered cumbersome pages of static data are developing blogs, podcasts, and customized search engines to deliver the most relevant and timely information on health topics.

Google Health, codename “Weaver”, is Google’s planned personal health information storage program. Google’s Vice President of Engineering Adam Bosworth lobbies for the program for quite a while now. Adam said the current US health care system is challenged when it comes to “supporting caregivers and communicating between different medical organizations.” Adam went on to say that people “need the medical information that is out there and available to be organized and made accessible to all ... Health information should be easier to access and organize, especially in ways that make it as simple as possible to find the information that is most relevant to a specific patient’s needs.” Adam adds that this – making information accessible – happens to be along Google’s mission.

The New York Times today writes that “about 20 percent of the [US] patient population have computerized records – rather than paper ones – and the Bush administration has pushed the health care industry to speed up the switch to electronic formats. But these records still tend to be controlled by doctors, hospitals or insurers. A patient moves to another state, for example, but the record usually stays.” But, the NYT continues, initiatives like the one by Google “would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable.” A prototype of Google Health has now been shown “to health professionals and advisers,” the NYT reports.

To find out just what you might be able to see in a future Google Health service, take a look at these screenshots from Google’s prototype which have been sent in here. As prototypes go, certain approaches of the program may change, and the specific interface may or may not be kept like this in a final release. “We’ll make mistakes and it will be a long-range march,” the NYT quotes Adam Bosworth.

To see more Screenshots of Google's new Personal Health record initiative, please visit

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