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Doctors Criticise Google Health Data

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Google’s health care IT solution has been taken to task by physicians who say it can give an inaccurate picture of patients’ health conditions

Google is encountering protests from users who say the information its Google Health beta Website presents has the potential to be inaccurate when it comes to electronic medical records.

Much of the online traffic over the issue has stemmed from one particular case, that of kidney cancer survivor Dave deBronkart, who transferred his medical records from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to Google Health, only to find that the latter had taken information from his billing records to incorrectly state that he had chronic lung disease and other conditions.

“I’ve been discussing this with the docs in the back room here, and they quickly figured out what was going on before I confirmed it: The system transmitted insurance billing codes to Google Health, not doctors’ diagnoses,” deBronkart wrote on his personal blog on April 4. “And as those in the know are well aware, in our system today, insurance billing codes bear no resemblance to reality.”

He also wrote, “I suspect processes for data integrity in health care are largely absent, by ordinary business standards. I suspect there are few, if any, processes in place to prevent wrong data from entering the system, or tracking down the cause when things do go awry.” deBronkart took care to say the post was not “a slam on Google Health”.

However, the story reached the Boston Globe on 13 April under the title “Electronic Health Records Raise Doubt.” The article quotes deBronkart’s primary physician, Dr. Daniel Sands, as saying the information from billing records, incorporated into Google Health, should never be used clinically.

When contacted by eWEEK, a Google spokesperson referred to the Globe article’s quoting of Dr. Roni Zeiger, product manager for Google Health, as saying having such information available online will benefit users in the long term as the solution’s accuracy improves.

“That’s something I think we could do better on,” the article quotes Zeiger as saying with regard to whether Google Health indicates the source of data for each diagnosis.

A number of online pundits have stated that physicians and other health care providers should be concerned about the importing of insurance billing records into Google Health precisely because of this lack of accuracy. Google has not posted a response on its blogs yet.

Google upgraded Google Health in March 2009 to allow users to share medical records and other personal health information with doctors and trusted contacts. The announcement was greeted with skepticism by some users, who voiced privacy concerns.

That same month, Google unveiled that it was participating in a pilot program with the CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) that would let Medicare beneficiaries in Arizona and Utah import their Medicare claims data into Google Health.

First introduced in February 2008, Google Health allows Google to share competitive space with Microsoft’s health care IT offerings, as well as Websites such as WebMD.