Google Health still faces skeptics on opening day

Doubts surrounding security, and Google's ability to keep the service free of advertising

Google this week opened its hosted online patient medical records service to the public, seven months after first announcing plans for a foray into health care.

The Google Health program, which allows patients to store personal health information online, this week continued to generate more questions about privacy and security than fanfare.

Carlton Doty, a Forrester Research analyst who follows consumer-based health IT efforts, said such efforts often prompt detractors to immediately decry a lack of privacy and security protections. However, he predicted that consumers will probably get over these concerns eventually, just as they have mostly overcome fears of providing credit card information to e-commerce Web sites.

However, Doty did note that a lack of sufficient partners could cause problems "The biggest barrier here is that for personal health records to really be useful, they need to tie together not just users inputting information, but [also] information from the provider from their electronic medical records and information from the insurers," he said. "I don't think Google or anybody is really there yet."

Early on, the program will rely mostly on a patient's own input because of the lack of partners outside of early signees such as The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and drug store chain Walgreens Co. "When it comes to lab data and medical history and those kinds of things, doctors rely today on reliable sources -- not the consumers themselves," Doty noted.

In addition, he questioned whether Google can keep to its pledge not to include advertising on the Google Health site.

Pharmaceutical companies would be a likely source of advertising dollars, he said. "To effectively place those advertisements, you have to open up that database to those pharmaceutical companies," Doty said. "For me, to store my medical information in that type of a setting and have pretty much any company that targets health care consumers have access to my health care data -- even if it's anonymous -- it still just doesn't feel right."

In the Google Health privacy policy, the company pledged not to "sell, rent or share" consumer health information. "You control who can access your personal health information," the policy states. "By default, you are the only user who can view and edit your information. If you choose to, you can share your information with others."

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