Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making the C list, Google Health & advertising

As a followup to last week's post about not making the HMO C list regarding Web 2.0 mentions, I actually did beginning the next day according to my statistics. My guess is it's due to linking directly to the source article. Hello out there! :)

It is with this experience in mind regarding health information on the web that I'm mulling over the recent public debut of Google Health, an online electronic health record (EHR) that is owned by the person who creates it but has import capability from the electronic medical records (EMRs) of healthcare and other organizations that have partnered with them.

This sounded great to me, until I dug around to find out exactly who these partners are
Google Health Partners: About our partners

Google Health is an open platform. We publish our technical documentation and anyone who wants to integrate or partner with us can do so. We don’t work exclusively with any organization or company. We partner with doctors, hospitals, medical clinics and groups, retail pharmacies, health insurance plans, laboratories, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and interesting companies that offer personalized online health tools to our users.
"Interesting companies that offer personalized online health tools" sounds suspiciously vague to me. Seeking more information about just how the partnerships work, I checked out the developer policies in place for them. Under the Data Use section is

Only use Google Health user data for the purposes disclosed in your privacy policy, and obtain users' opt-in consent if personally identifiable health data will be used for ad targeting.

Clearly label advertising
and in Notices is

  • Promotional* notices must be clearly labeled as promotional
  • Promotional notices may be sent a maximum of once per week per user
  • Links in notices must open in a new window or provide a working back button

* Definition of promotional: Promotional materials are any materials that promote a product or service - such as encouraging the user to purchase or "ask their doctor" about a specific item. This includes coupons and sale announcements, as well as drug advertisements.

Contrast this to Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) #6

6. If it’s free, how does Google make money off Google Health?

Much like other Google products we offer, Google Health is free to anyone who uses it. There are no ads in Google Health. Our primary focus is providing a good user experience and meeting our users' needs.

So, as I understand it, Google Health itself will not have advertising as part of its basic platform. If users opt in to use third-party applications as part of their Google Health records, then there could be advertising generated from them.

This fact is not currently stated anywhere in the FAQ or the general user information that I can locate, but there is You can also use Google Health to access a host of online services and tools, from a variety of third-party companies, that can help you better manage your care. in FAQ #3 that states outside applications are possible to integrate in your Google Health record.

I'm concerned about this, especially regarding user populations with low web and/or health literacy who may 'keep clicking' to access applications without reading the terms of service or understanding the consequences of sharing their personal health information with them.

I have not signed up for my own account as I'm satisfied with my access to my HMO's EMR (got that down as a positive mention, guys?) that is protected under HIPAA and prefer to keep my health information that way.


Brandi Tuttle said...

I appreciate the scrutiny of the notices and other legalese. We really need to step back and take a look at this tremendously powerful application of EMRs. I don't want to instantly disregard it nor do I want to blindly follow (the crowd?).