After the usual lengthy alpha phase and more than a little hullaballoo over potential privacy concerns, Google Health has launched. While it remains to be seen whether entrusting your personal health records to Google is ultimately a good idea, the service does offer some value as a convenient online place to store and manage your health information. So rather than join the fray in debating whether or not you should actually give Google Health a try, I'll just take you on a tour of the service and leave your health care privacy decisions up to you.
If you already have a Google account, either for Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, or another of the company's trillion services, there's no sign-up needed to begin using Google Health. Just use your existing login info and get going. If you don't yet have a Google account, go to google.com/health and click Sign Up to get started. The service collects only your name and requires you to select a username and password. Once you're signed up, you'll be dropped into a fairly empty-looking profile page.
By default, Google Health will use your login name as your profile name. If you'd rather change this to your actual name (which will make it easier for your doctor to understand when she's looking at your printed profile later), click Settings, click your profile name, and then type your preferred name and hit Enter. When you're done, click Save changes and then click your newly renamed profile name at the top of the left menu column to return to your main profile page.
To fill in your personal stats, such as height, weight, birth date, and so on, click Age, sex, height... under Profile Details on the left. Click Save when you've entered all your info.
Unless you're among the tiny handful of people whose medical services are already in digital form and ready to be shared with Google Health by their health care organisation, getting your information into Google Health is largely a manual process. So before you move on to the next steps, you'd typically want to gather your existing paper records and have them handy for reference. So gather up any prescription receipts, lab test results, or other documents you may have filed away, and then click Add to this Google Health profile.
In the "Add to this profile" screen, you can enter any medical conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results, or immunisations that may be relevant to your health. The interface is simple and straightforward. Click the appropriate tab at the top of the screen, and then start typing the name of your condition, allergy, or what-have-you into the text field. Google Health will attempt to auto-complete your entry, showing you a list of possible matches. When you find the one you want to enter, select it by clicking on it and then click the +Add button. Alternatively, you can slog through the alphabetized list of choices below. Do this for all of the conditions, procedures, allergies, etc., that you'd like to enter.
In the not-so-distant dystopian future, every health care company you deal with -- from your hospital to your insurance company to your corner pharmacy -- may begin linking to sites like Google Health so you can import all of your health records automatically and automatically share them with your doctor. At present, however, only a few companies have the ability to link to your Google Health profile. But if you happen to fill your prescriptions at, say, Longs Drug Stores, you can instantly import a list of all your medications by linking your drug store profile to your Google Health profile. To use this feature, click Import medical records and browse the list for health services providers that you deal with. If and when you find one, click Link to profile.