Google is exploring a health record tool for patients

After 13 years, Google is coming back for patient health records. The tech giant has launched an early user feedback program aimed at exploring how patients might want to see, organize, and share their own medical record data. The work could inform the creation of a consumer-facing medical records tool along the lines of Apple’s Health Records app. It also follows an early attempt by Google — later panned by medical experts — at creating a new version of the electronic medical record in 2008. This time around, timing may be on the company’s side: Its new effort, which is still in the early stages, came on the heels of the introduction of the federal information blocking rule, which lets patients access their medical records through health apps. Google is currently recruiting about 300 patients for its health records study from community health facilities and academic medical centers in Northern California, Atlanta, and Chicago who use Epic as their medical record vendor. The study is only open to patients who use Android devices.

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In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company was “running a user feedback program to test features that give users the ability to collect health information from their provider patient portals,” and added that any health data gathered as part of the feedback program will not be sold or used for Google ads. The information will be encrypted and stored in the cloud, the spokesperson said.

While the tech giant is not directly partnering with any organizations for the program, it has reached out to at least four health systems to alert them of the effort, including the University of California, Davis; UCSF; Alameda Health System in Oakland, Calif.; and Access Community Health Network in Chicago.

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Bob Wachter, who chairs the department of medicine at the UCSF and has advised Google on its health records work on a noncompensatory basis, told STAT he was impressed but not blown away by the company’s latest health records initiative.

“It didn’t knock my socks off,” he said, but “I think they’re doing it in a thoughtful, measured, and mature way. And it seems like they’re making progress.”

The move follows Google’s other recent health records work in Care Studio, a search tool that assists clinicians with navigating patients’ medical records. Earlier this month, the tech giant named Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center its second hospital partner, joining the hospital chain Ascension as part of the pilot program. The effort drew widespread criticism over the organizations’ patient data-sharing agreement, which Google and Ascension said was compliant with federal health data privacy rules.
In the coming months, Wachter said he hopes to see Google add more functionality to Care Studio, for example by smoothing its workflow integration and incorporating more features aimed at improving patient care. Wachter, having advised technology companies on their health efforts since the early 2000s, said he has witnessed a number of tech giants including Google try and fail to create new versions of the electronic health record (EHR). Looking forward, he hopes to see more companies take a similar approach to Google’s most recent effort, which essentially builds assistive tools that layer on top of the existing EHR, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

“I think we’re entering an era where we have our EHR, but there are tools that help us use it in a better, faster, and safer way.”

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