GoogleHealth: Not So Healthy

Mental health and addictions professionals require tools. For a couple decades, Terry McLeod has been a trailblazer providing those tools in the form of Electronic ...Read More

It was doomed from the start.

Long ago, but not so far away I researched Google Health as an alternative for a central storage spot for all my electronic health data. At the time, my conclusion was that I couldn’t make use of it, simply because I couldn’t trust myself to keep it up to date. It was a great idea on the surface, but under the covers required some maintenance. I would need to grab all my health records and transfer them to Google Health, which seems like a lot of work, whether it would be or not.

When I checked out the service, it seemed like a great place for my primary care provider and specialists in cardiology or mental health to electronically transfer the records. Demand drives services like this, and in the end, the demand just wasn’t there for Google’s service. Partly because the demand wasn’t there, partially because it takes programming effort for a software company to meet other software companies’ requirements to securely transfer data, the service didn’t make it.

It takes a special sort of programmer (aka expensive programmer) to develop secure data transfer technology, and security is the key concern when transferring health care data. Software companies are becoming less and less interested in doing this sort of work in the hopes it will pay off, simply because they’ve developed too many programs that didn’t. The Health Level 7 (HL7) format for transferring data is a good one, and really the standard that’s in use today. Most companies have developed this technology. It’s a matter of mapping data from an element in one program to the right spot in another program, say, like from your mental health or addictions professional’s office to Google. The problem is that every time it’s done, there are so many elements to account for in so many different ways, programmers commonly are re-inventing the wheel to get the right data from point A to point B in a secure fashion. It seems every software company approaches this common solution differently. That takes development, and as I shared, development is expensive. Professionals don’t want to spend the money, so data transfer programs, even those based on HL7, don’t get developed.

When I originally looked into Google’s service, I didn’t think the electronic sharing of data was even available, so I saw no value. If it was available, it still requires cooperation from other software companies, and getting competitors to cooperate is a tough and expensive task. If electronic data transfer isn’t available for a scheme like storing my health data in a third party location, then I would need to either do some scanning or manual data entry, and I wasn’t (and still am not) up to either. Besides, patient portals are on the horizon. Patient portals are one answer to a new government mandate that healthcare data, like mental health treatment plans, be available to the consumer. It’s much better than printing a book for every patient who wants a copy of their health record.

I use the Veteran’s Administration as my primary healthcare provider, as well as a few clinics, however my cardiologist is special…I go to an outside professional for that. In order to assure the VA’s system is up to date, I get scanned records from the cardiologist, and that’s almost too much work for me. Sometimes the scans just don’t make it to the VA. Shame on me.

By the way, my heart’s healthy and strong like steel, with apparently no danger of heart attack eminent in case you’re interested.

In our world, everybody’s concerned with confidentiality…I wouldn’t want notes from a private therapy session with a professional released to anybody, and that’s a common feeling. This prevailing attitude makes it awfully tough for third party services like Google Health to make it.

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