CHICAGO (Reuters) - Web search company Google Inc is collaborating with Cleveland Clinic, one of the premier U.S. health institutions, to pilot an exchange of data that puts patients in charge of their own medical records.
The health care industry has been trying to usher in a paperless era for more than a decade, holding out the promise that electronic medical records would bring significant cost savings.
Today only a tiny minority of hospitals and primary care physicians use electronic medical records.
Google said it chose the Cleveland Clinic because it is one of the relatively few health institutions with an electronic system in place. Its eCleveland Clinic MyChart stores medical records of 100,000 patients.
The Cleveland Clinic now plans to enroll 1,500 to 10,000 patients in a test of the secure exchange of medical data, including prescriptions, conditions and allergies, between its systems and a secure Google profile in a live clinical delivery setting.
The clinic said the goal of the model was to allow patients to interact with multiple physicians, health care service providers and pharmacies.
The pilot will eventually extend Cleveland Clinic’s online patient services to a broader audience and allow patients to take their medical data with them wherever they go.
“Patients are more proactively managing their own health care information,” said Dr. C. Martin Harris, the clinic’s chief information officer.
“This collaboration is intended to help Google test features and services that will ultimately allow all Americans to direct the exchange of their medical information between their various providers without compromising their privacy,” Harris said.
But concerns about privacy and how access to information would be enforced are just a couple of issues that have slowed the transition to paperless medical records, said Morningstar analyst Debbie Wang.
“I think it will happen, eventually,” Wang said. “This is more likely to be a false start and a fishing expedition on Google’s part.
“From the outside, it often looks like health care is an easy target because it’s populated with dinosaurs who use a lot of paper,” she said. “But there are conundrums.”
For example, physicians often have no financial incentive for converting to electronic systems, she said, while the benefit would mostly be to insurance companies unlikely to pass down the savings to consumers.
“It’s not clear to me that Google has figured out what they just bit off,” Wang said.
No one at Google was immediately available for comment.
David Webster, president of Webster Consulting, said the reason the transition to paperless records didn’t get off the ground previously is because they couldn’t get enough providers to make the data available to consumers.
“It’s the chicken and the egg,” Webster said, adding that he didn’t see why it would be different this time.
“Google is pitching this as consumer-centric. They ultimately see the day when the U.S. might consider a universal, national health-care system and in that case, if they can building enough scale ... then they can be the de facto IT integrator of all the information,” Webster said.
“Everyone wants to be in this business. It’s a very tough thing to get accomplished,” he added.
Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Richard Chang