Ask Not What Google Can Do For You …

Don't be evil is the search giant's mantra, but its operative phrase is "Get r' done." CIOs should take a lesson from the tech chief at the Cleveland Clinic and look for ways to work with innovative companies like Google to drive their organizations' agendas.

John Soat, Contributor

February 21, 2008

4 Min Read

"Don't be evil" is the search giant's mantra, but its operative phrase is "Get r' done." CIOs should take a lesson from the tech chief at the Cleveland Clinic and look for ways to work with innovative companies like Google to drive their organizations' agendas.Dr. C. Martin Harris, the CIO of the Cleveland Clinic, has jumped into bed with Google and he's taking arrows for it (to mix up my metaphors nice and thick) -- some of them from this Web site. But innovation is as innovation does, and I think Harris is to be applauded for working with the most forward-thinking company on the planet.

Google and the Cleveland Clinic announced a joint project that will enable the health care organization's patients to store their health records in Google accounts. The project is an extension of the Cleveland Clinic's already aggressive effort around personal electronic health records (PHR). More than 100,000 Cleveland Clinic patients participate in the clinic's PHR system, which is called eCleveland Clinic MyChart. From 1,500 and 10,000 of those patients will be invited to enroll in the pilot program with Google.

The project is intended to address one of the thorniest problems in the ongoing effort to digitize the health care industry -- transmitting electronic health records from one caregiver to another. That's where Google comes in. When a Cleveland Clinic patient visits a non-clinic doctor, that doctor can transmit information about that visit into the patient's Google PHR account, so that the patient can then allow access to that data to Cleveland Clinic doctors.

The Cleveland Clinic received no funding from Google to participate in this pilot. "Google was a natural" fit to help Cleveland Clinic in this health data exchange for patients, said Harris, in a news story written by two of my colleagues, Marianne Kolbasuk McGee and Tom Claburn. And there was this in their story:

The partnership between Google and Cleveland Clinic alleviates the burden on patients to provide an updated medical history to their doctors at each visit, said Harris. "This is the kind of exchange that needs to happen," he said. Harris described the pilot with Google as an important part of Cleveland Clinic's longtime strategy to put health IT tools into the hands of the clinic's physicians at the point of care. With this arrangement, clinic doctors will have access to more comprehensive and complete information about their patients at point of care, he said.

But my colleagues' news story also pointed out, at length, the negative privacy implications of letting Google into the health care industry:

Google's timing could be better. The World Privacy Forum on Wednesday issued a report warning that personal health records (PHR) are not protected by federal HIPAA privacy and security rules and that entrusting such records to a PHR service -- the very thing Google is offering -- raises a number of possible risks.

And they weren't the only ones. Here's a passage from a story on BusinessWeek's site that also explains a similar effort by Microsoft in facilitating electronic health records:

While strict laws govern patient privacy at hospitals and health-care providers, "there is no federal regulation of what these middle-layer players can do with your data," [David Lansky, senior director of the health program at the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation] explains. And while consumers might trust Google or Microsoft now, what might happen in years or decades? "This is deeply personal information that is being collected about you and your family," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "There is unease about marketers being able to access that vast range of information."

Sure, there are privacy issues connected with electronic medical records. And there are privacy issues connected with ATMs and online banking and Internet search, but those electronic efforts have proved very fruitful despite potential complications and pitfalls. Working with Google on an ambitious project such as this, that advances not only his organization's business agenda but also its contribution to society, is the kind of forward thinking and innovative action more CIOs should consider. The Cleveland Clinic's Harris is to be commended for seizing the opportunity to work with Google.

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