Google YOUR private health information?

What if I told you that companies like Google and Microsoft will soon have the opportunity to handle your private medical information? Maybe this is information that you do not want anyone else to know - other than - say your doctor? Earlier this week the state of Tennessee announced a partnership with AT&T for the first statewide network to share health information.

An article in today's Washington Post states that the Cleveland Clinic, in association with Google, will be starting a pilot project that is aimed at putting personal electronic health records in the hands of consumers. (I've talked about personal health records on this blog in the past)

What Cleveland Clinic wants to do is have the ability to merge outside electronic medical records with their own system. For example, if I refer a patient up there, currently, the only thing I can do is send paper records and even x-rays up to Cleveland Clinic with the patient. How much more convenient would it be for me and the patient to have a way to send electronic records and have the opportunity to feed it into their system. That would save time and paper.

What Google wants to do is be the reservoir of all this information - and in some way, make this information available to the health consumer - meaning the patient - meaning you. That's a good idea, right? Here's the problem: What about all the privacy issues? How comfortable are you that companies like Google and Microsoft would have your private medical information?

Medical files in the care of health-care providers like doctors, pharmacies and hospitals enjoy legal protections specified by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Covered files are strictly controlled, can't easily be subpoenaed, can't be exploited for profit and have to be stored securely. But Microsoft and Google aren't health-care providers.

"When you move records from a doctor to a personal health record, your protection evaporates," said Robert Gellman, author of a World Privacy Forum study on the subject released last week. He concluded that such systems "can have significant negative consequences for the privacy of consumers."

People joke about "googling" someone - like friends - or even enemies - just to see what comes up. I know my patients "google" my real name to try to learn more about me. What if MY personal medical information was in the hands of Google? What if YOUR personal medical information was in the hands of Google or Microsoft?

In this country, our privacy is pretty much gone anyway. I mean if you're out in public and do something stupid, someone with a camera cell phone records it and is on you tube within the hour. Or Flickr? Or someone blogs about it? And we've all heard of employers who have obtained this information and people are fired. But, this is invasion of privacy on an entirely new level.

Now, people from a potential boss to a private investigator would possibly have the ability to look up your most private medical and health information? This is just wrong and it's dangerous. The article says that an act of Congress is needed to require non-medical providers like Google to follow the same privacy laws that I follow and that hospitals follow. Do you think this will happen? What do you think about these tech companies holding your personal medical information?

Update: This post is less than 2 hours old, and I already have someone fired up! Check out Cathy's take on this (she's been a patient at The Cleveland Clinic).