NEW YORK - Google’s online filing cabinet for medical records opened to the public Monday, giving users instant electronic access to their health histories while reigniting privacy concerns.
Called Google Health, the service lets users link information from a handful of pharmacies and care providers, including Quest Diagnostics labs. Google plans to add more.
Similar offerings include Microsoft Corp.’s HealthVault and Revolution Health, which is backed by AOL co-founder Steve Case.
Google Health differentiates itself from the pack through its user interface and things like the public availability of its application program interface, or API, said Marissa Mayer, the Google executive overseeing the service.
Mary Adams, 45, a Cleveland Clinic patient who participated in the Google Health pilot, said that she was initially concerned about the privacy of her medical information.
Still, she felt safe enough to enroll and has been using the service for about six months, linking it with an online health management tool from the Cleveland Clinic and adding information on prescriptions and doctors to her online profile.
“I hate pieces of paper lying around my house, so I love the fact that i can log on with my normal Google login info and see everything at a glance,” she saidt.
The service, still a non-final “beta” version, does not include ads. But Mayer said Google doesn’t plan to start placing them to support the site.
Besides importing records from providers, users can enhance their password-protected profiles with details such as allergies and medications, they can search for doctors and they can locate Web-based health-related tools.
Mountain View-based Google Inc. views its expansion into health records management as logical because its search engine already processes millions of requests from people trying to find information about injuries, illnesses and recommended treatments.
Before this public launch, Google stored medical records for a few thousand patient volunteers at the nonprofit Cleveland Clinic.
The health venture provides fodder for privacy watchdogs who believe Google already has too much about the interests and habits of its users in its logs of search requests and its vaults of e-mail archives.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said services like Google Health are troublesome because they aren’t covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Passed in 1996, HIPAA set strict standards for the security of medical records. “We are in uncharted territory here,” Dixon said of the Google plan.