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Brought to you by the ALA, this is Choose Privacy Week. The UI Library has put together a LibGuide on the subject and its made a few more appearances than usual over at LifeHacker. So its not without a little bit of irony that I stumbled upon GoogleHealth this week. It has apparently been available for over two years, and is touted as a value for
consumers being able to own, use, manage and share their medical data online with whomever they choose. (Official Google Blog)
It works by Google Users manually or electronically importing their health data into the system and then managing it themselves, allowing them to share the data as they see fit (as stated by the Google Blog quote above). It is important to note that GoogleHealth, and other services like it, are not covered under HIPAA privacy laws, so that data has much less legal protection from prying eyes than before it was uploaded.
I understand the desire for easily portable health records that are under patient control. I really do. I’ve even argued for them. However, this tool from Google gives me goose bumps. If you are a user, especially an active user, Google already collects a vast amount of data about you. Lets look at some of the potential data you feed them every day, if your account is set just right (or just wrong): your internet search activity, what sites you visit, your email, your appointments, your documents, your photographs, your location, your movements, your deepest thoughts, and your reading habits. Does Google really need to know your medical history as well?
Before I go any further, let me just say that I use all of those services, except that I have set my account to not log my search or surf activities (trusting that it doesn’t anyway). That said, and not knowing nearly enough about the field of Health Informatics, I feel that this sort of service is best left with someone other than Google as the provider.
Who would you trust with your most personal of personal information? The Government? A health insurance company? Is this data more secure in monolithic databases or scattered to its points of creation?
I go with the later. Just like your bank account, individual hospitals where patients establish a primary care provider could establish web-based patient accounts to an industry standard of security and portability. When a patient changes primary care providers and moves away from that hospital, it would be a simple matter of transferring the data to the new primary care provider’s hospital. I am sure this proposal is overly-simplistic and will be told it can’t be done for reasons x, y, and z, but is it any crazier to think about than turning over control of this data to a search engine company?
Please, think before you act online. If you think and choose to act anyway, be sure to use a VERY strong password.