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Google Says Its Health Platform Is Due In Early 2008

Google plans to bring its immense data storage and organization capacities to the field of medical care and patient records, Marissa Mayer, the company's head of search, said at the Web 2.0 Summit.

Telling her audience to "expect a lot of activity in the coming months," Marissa Mayer, Google's head of search, said today that the long-expected Google Health initiative will formally appear in early 2008.

Marissa Mayer of Google on the keynote stage at the Web 2.0 Summit (click to enlarge image).
(click for image gallery)

Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Mayer outlined the ways in which the search giant plans to bring its immense data storage and organization capacities to the field of medical care and patient records. Google is already the starting point for a large majority of the health-related searches on the Web, she pointed out.

"If you look at health care, there's already a huge user need, people are already using Google more than any other tool on the Web to find health information," Mayer said. "And the health care industry generates a huge amount of information every year. It's a natural core competency fo us, to understand how to organize all that data."

As in other areas of its business, Google faces a formidable competitor in the race to bring the resources of the Internet to personalized health care in the form of Microsoft.

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Medstory, a Foster City, Calif.-based startup specializing in search software optimized for finding health information. Microsoft has since launched HealthVault, a set of search and personal health-record tools that consumers control in terms of the data that's entered and shared with others.

"We’re building a broad consumer health platform," Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft’s health solutions group, told The New York Times in August.

Google has developed a prototype online platform for its health offering that incorporates personal medical records, health care-related search features, diet and exercise regimens, a localized "find a doctor" application, and other elements, Mayer confirmed. The company has shown the prototype to unspecified partners and is having both Google employees and "trusted testers" beta-test the system.

Mayer took over the health care initiative in August, after the original leader, Adam Bosworth, left the company. She said she's been holding daily 90-minute meetings with the team developing the Google Health software, working on product refinements, improving features, and so on. While some parts of the system will be free, she says, the health care services and applications could be subscription-based.

While the focus will be on improving health care and making records more accessible and portable for patients, Google will also improve life for physicians, Mayer noted.

"The goal for a lot of doctors is how many patients can they see in a day," Mayer said. "That means their minutes per patient has got to go down, and the less time they have to spend finding and going over patient records the better. Ultimately we will design a product that's useful for users, and also helps doctors do their job more quickly and more efficiently."

The online health care field already has several startups, not all of whom have met with success. Internet-based medical information provider WebMD – which is already a Google partner -- saw its share price drop by 14 percent today after it reported disappointing quarterly results.

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