Google Doesn’t Belong In The Health Records Business – Here’s A Better Idea

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By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

Sorry, Eric (Schmidt, CEO of Google).
Google doesn’t belong in the health records business.

For those of you who don’t follow Google’s business on a daily basis, here is a brief rundown of what has happened.

Last year, Microsoft announced a new service called Health Vault to help individuals manage health records online. This is not a revolutionary idea. There are already several smaller companies on the Internet offering individuals the convenience of storing health records online so that they are more available when they are needed. Several of the large players in the business of providing technology to doctors offices and medical clinics also have digital records initiatives.

But, no one company has been able to gain serious momentum in digital health records. It is a gargantuan task to coordinate doctors, labs, hospitals, pharmacies, insurance companies and individuals AND meet all of the requirements of HIPAA for privacy. Microsoft has already collected an impressive number of partners to work with Health Vault.

Google Announcement Starts Tsunami

In Orlando, Florida last week, Google announced Google Health, a platform for individuals to manage medical records such as medical test results and prescriptions. The announcement set off a wave of protests from consumer privacy advocates. Eric Schmidt is trying to soothe the uproar by saying that Google won’t sell ads on Google Health.

Oh really?
Here’s how one analyst sees the situation:

“Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, firmly believes ads will happen. ‘Advertisers would pay absurd amounts of money to be seen when someone wants to, say, refill a subscription online,’ he says.’ This is more lucrative than commerce-related search.” For the complete story, click here to see Jefferson Graham’s article in USA Today.

Digital Records Could Save Lives

I’m not a Luddite. I work for a company that develops mobile technology.

And, I have had to fight ferociously with doctor’s office administrators to obtain my Dad’s medical records as well as my own and my children’s records. In one case, I had to pay $100 for a file of poor photocopies that I could barely read. Forget about scanning to digitize them.

My father was caught in the bind between doctor and hospital. His regular family doctor had all of his records but she wasn’t admitted to practice at the hospital closest to my father’s home. The hospital would “assign” him a doctor while he was there. But the records never made it back to the family doctor.

The cardiologist at the hospital might not have put my father on Plavix if the doctor knew my father had a history of gastrointestinal bleeding. At one point, the docs who did not talk to each other had my father on DOUBLE doses of 4 different medications. It only got corrected because he could feel that the medications were not working right. He went to the family doctor who reduced all the doses and got rid of the duplicate medications.

That was a close call! And, it is a safe bet that this happens to thousands of Americans everyday.

If you have experienced anything like this, you may think I am crazy to oppose help from the two tech companies that have the best chance of making digital records happen. Pam Dixon, executive director of the non-profit World Privacy Forum, said it best,”A publicly traded company is supposed to have shareholders (my emphasis) in mind first.” (As quoted in an Associated Press article by Travis Reed.)

The Push for Quarterly Profits

Wall Street, institutional and individual shareholders are illogically relentless in their push for quarterly profits from publicly traded companies. Every employee knows what ROSHE (Return on Shareholder Equity) its company is trying to achieve. The focus may be making customers happy so they buy more product or service but the goal is always ROSHE.

The bulk of Google’s revenue comes from selling ads. Microsoft sells software and services. These companies are locked in a battle to gain your attention for its products and partners’ products. Each is working to dominate the marketplace.

So, it is easy to envision a scenario in which our personal privacy gets compromised.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Microsoft has the platforms to connect little devices like a glucose monitor to your home computer but its web sites infrastructure is not as strong as Google’s. (Full disclosure– my company is a Microsoft Partner. I have many good things to say about Microsoft but not when it comes to its web sites.)

Google has the digital infrastructure to power web-based communications around our planet. If you use Google to search the Internet, you are tapping into an amazing, gigantic, distributed network that gives you search results after it has filtered out over 3 million malicious or problematic web sites in a small fraction of a second. But, even Google admits that its first version of a G-Phone is buggy beyond belief.

I admire both companies for what they have achieved and the vision they espouse. But both companies have the compelling need to make ROSHE. Right now Google has advertisers that are willing to pay $25, $50 or more when a person visits the advertiser’s web site. The possibilities for enormous revenue for delivering pharmaceutical ads, for example, to consumers are easy to imagine. Google has all of the technology from Double Click to track every purchase you make. It’s only a short step to your entire medical file.

Microsoft has slightly different, yet just has huge revenue possibilities. It’s making the Wall Street analysts giddy with thoughts of double digit quarterly profits.

The Third Alternative — A Consortium

It’s hard to get things done by committee. Compromises can result in gazelles that look more like camels. But sometimes a non-profit organization or a governmental entity is the only way to protect citizens from the fallout of the giant corporate gladiators.

From my vantage point, the only way to assure that digital health care information does not become another series of battles like Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD (or Betamax vs. VHS for those who have long memories) is to have a non-profit consortium responsible to citizens to safeguard privacy and set standards for interoperability.

Think of the headaches if you want to change doctors but the new doctor doesn’t use the same medical records system. If you choose to go with the new doctor, you have to figure out a way to get all of the pertinent data into the new system. That’s more time out of your week, more money out of your pocket, and another point where your information could be corrupted or misused.

Now is the time for Microsoft and Google to call a truce and become part of a non-profit consortium for health care records. It won’t be perfect, but when consumers trust that their information is safe, they will sign up to buy in droves. And that would make Wall Street happy, too.