Google Health “Share” Feature Raises Privacy Concerns

Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Google Health has a new feature that lets users share medical information with others through an e-mail link.

    The company launched Google Health one year ago, to let registered users of the service store medical records online.

    The goal of the new "Share this profile," feature is to enable medical information to get to the right people quickly and efficiently, Sameer Samat, director of product management at Google Health, explained on the Google Blog today.

    "One issue we hear regularly is that people want help coordinating their care and the care of loved ones," Samat wrote. "They want the ability to share their medical records and personal health information with trusted family members, friends, and doctors in their care network."

    But some consumer advocacy groups say the new feature makes it too easy for sensitive information to be abused. Others who might see a patient’s medical information do not have the privacy obligations that doctors and insurance companies do under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

    Google has tried to take safety measures. A link to a shared profile will only work in connection with the specified e-mail address, so the link does not work if it is forwarded. Also, all links expire after 30 days.

    Jamie Court, president of the Washington D.C.-based consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog doesn’t think that’s enough.

    "Doctors and hospitals have a duty to keep this information confidential, but others don’t," he told The Industry Standard. "In the hands of the wrong workplace colleague, friend or vendor, this information could be used against patients."

    Google Health is free to both patients and partner organizations, such as hospitals and pharmacies.

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