August 20th, 2008 | Published in Google Public Policy
Long before we launched Google Health in May, our team engaged with health care industry experts, policymakers, and privacy organizations to discuss the privacy and security protections we planned to build into the product. As part of this ongoing conversation, yesterday I spoke alongside representatives from other personal health record (PHR) services at the Harvard Privacy Symposium. During a panel entitled "Privacy and Technology: Privacy Prospects in the New Online Personal Health Record World," we discussed the most pressing privacy issues in the emerging PHR market, as well as potential policy and industry-based solutions.
I emphasized our philosophy of putting users in control of the data stored in their Google Health accounts and building privacy features into the fundamental architecture of Google Health, as we do with all our products and services. Giving users complete control -- it's their data, after all -- means that users don't have to worry about their employer or health insurance company, for example, accessing their medical records stored in Google Health unless they've explicitly invited them to do so.
In this same vein, Google Health recently endorsed and was involved in developing the Markle Foundation's Connecting for Health framework for privacy practices for online health services. This industry-wide collaboration has resulted in clear, common-sense standards that give patients control over their personal health information and greater visibility into how it is used and kept safe. The framework is an important step in protecting health information and gaining the trust and confidence of our users who want to begin storing their medical records online. We want our users to be assured that we will never sell their health data or share it with others unless they authorize us to do so. We believe our users should have control over who views their health information and who can add to it, and we make it possible for users to revoke access rights at any time.
We support and are taking part in the national dialogue on potential privacy legislation for electronic consumer health information. However, we know that PHRs are still in their infancy. We think it's important to be thoughtful about how the adoption of PHRs presents new privacy challenges. But it's also important not to underestimate how storing and managing medical records online offers unprecedented benefits to users. Strong privacy practices and sensible public policy are part of the story, but we must balance integrating privacy protections with the need for a simple and easy user experience and foster continued innovation by technology and health care companies. We cannot create new privacy standards that make it harder for users to get access to their data online.
We see barriers already today. Patients currently have the right to get copies of their medical records, but so few go through the tedious process of requesting copies or faxes of their records or paying any necessary administrative fees to get them. Google Health makes it easier for patients to access their own health information by importing electronic copies from connected health care providers directly into their accounts. Once their records are stored in Google Health, users can take their pick from a number of useful online health tools to help them to better manage their health, communicate with their doctors, and improve their well-being. It's up to users to elect these services, as we believe they should always be in control.