Google gathers group of health care advisers
■ The council's formation raises speculation as to the company's future plans in Internet health.
By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted July 23, 2007
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Google, the Internet search giant, has convened a committee of health care leaders, in the company's words, to "help us better understand the problems consumers and providers face every day and offer feedback on product ideas and development."
The move, announced June 27 on the company's blog (link) has fueled speculation that Google, which has advocated personal health records, is on the verge of developing and marketing its own PHR, among other health ventures. The company has not specified any specific plans for new products, nor a specific role for its advisory committee in developing them.
Still, there have been hints about a Google PHR since the company earlier this year publicly began endorsing the Continuity of Care Record standards for electronic and personal health records. Idaho-based health technology consultant Vince Kuraitis is one of many experts and health bloggers who see Google's health advisory council as the company's first step to a PHR that could dominate its market. He also is one of many who sees Google's health ventures having a dominant impact on the health system itself, given the company's size (No. 241 on the Fortune 500 and rising quickly), Web power (not just search engines, but numerous other Web-based software ventures) and cultural significance ("googling" has become a generic team for Internet searching).
"Google Health ... could be the event of the decade in advancing health care reform -- not just health care information technology ... reform, but health care system reform," Kuraitis wrote on his blog e-caremanagement.com/. "GH promises simultaneously to create AND dominate the market for next generation personal health records. There is nothing else in our solar system or in the entire universe like it."
Adam Bosworth, vice president of Google, said at the World Health Care Conference and at the American Medical Informatics Assn.'s Spring Congress that patients need online access to medical records. But Bosworth did not detail specific plans, and the company will neither confirm nor deny it is working on a PHR.
Doug Henley, MD, executive vice president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who serves on the committee, said all members of the council were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements. But he does not know what future products Google will present to the council.
American Medical Association COO Bernie Hengesbaugh also is serving on the council.
"We look forward to working with Google and lending our physician perspective in helping shape an Internet-based resource that can better meet the information needs of patients and physicians," said AMA Board of Trustees Chair Edward L. Langston, MD. "Ultimately, we hope that better health care information leads to better health." But Dr. Langston said the AMA's participation does not constitute an endorsement of Google products or services.
According to Google spokesman Steve Langdon, council members will serve a one-year term and will be paid $1,500 per quarterly meeting, with the chair receiving a larger stipend. Some of the council members also will serve as consultants beyond the scope of the council and will be paid for those services as well, Langdon said. Hengesbaugh said he has waived the stipend and will not be paid by Google.
In addition to physicians, organized medicine representatives, medical executives and nonprofit representatives, the council also includes a former congressional budget office director under President Reagan and a Wal-Mart representative. Wal-Mart announced plans last year to provide online PHRs for its employees.
No nurses, medical librarians or health care bloggers were asked to serve, causing several criticisms of Google to surface in blogs and among leaders in those three communities.
Jean Shipman, immediate past president of the Medical Librarians Assn., was hoping to see a medical librarian on the council as Google had sought the association's help with another project. MLA is working with Google on its Co-op health project (link), which allows organizations to "tag" certain Web sites as reliable sources of information. Advisers for that site include at least one medical blogger.
"I feel like no matter how much high tech there is, there's still a need for high touch," Shipman said. "Medical librarians can offer such."
Langdon offered no explanation as to why these groups were not included. But he said the council could grow or shrink over time and that the company "will continue to ask for guidance and input from experts in many disciplines and sectors."