Melville, N.Y. — Searching the Internet for movies playing locally is just plain handy, but the idea of Googling your own medical records is raising privacy concerns.
Google, the California search engine company, and the Cleveland Clinic - an Ohio medical institution with a reputation for quality care - said last week they will collaborate on a pilot program to store patient records online.
The test program will allow 1,500 to 10,000 patient volunteers at the Cleveland Clinic to store certain records - information on prescriptions, allergies and laboratory test results - in a secure Google account. Patients will have passwords, and only they will be able to access the medical records.
The idea is to allow patients to control their medical records.
If they decide to change doctors or hospitals, they will be able to electronically transfer their Google records by themselves.
Patients will be offered the service for free.
"What we are trying to do is exchange information between isolated electronic medical systems, and when we do that the patient gets a benefit," said Dr. C. Martin Davis, a Cleveland Clinic spokesman. "The patient is making the decision when information moves from one system to another."
But some privacy advocates wonder whether hackers will be able to access the Google medical records or whether the company will use them commercially. Google says it will not share or sell the data.
Many hospitals have been keeping - and improving - electronic patient records for a number of years.
In some cases, both hospitals and patients' own physicians can access those computer records.
Right now, patients can't move the records around electronically, but some doctors say that could happen.
"We do have patient records that are electronic and that can be used so physicians can track data of their patients' care," said Dr. Joshua Kugler, chief medical officer of South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y.
Kugler said he supports the idea of patients accessing their records but questioned whether Google can ensure that only patients will access their own records.
"I am concerned about the privacy issues," he said.
At the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Dr. Barry Goetz is director of ambulatory clinical information systems. Goetz said the health network has spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" on a system that will eventually allow any of its hospitals to view records on care a patient has received at any of other hospitals.
Starting in June, North Shore will provide records on patients who have received care there available to hospitals across the system. LIJ, Goetz said, is "already up and running."
Initially, though, patients won't be able to move their information around as in the Google model.
Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, says she's concerned the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act - which governs medical privacy - might not cover information stored on Google. The World Privacy Forum is a San Diego nonprofit public interest research group.
And what about the potential for using the information to attract revenues?
"We will not share, nor will we sell users' information," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker in an interview. "We have no plans for ads."
It's unclear whether Google plans to make money on the medical record program.