Google Health may make you sicker

A new Google tool aimed at improving user healthcare overall could actually impede--and worsen--some patients' care instead. That's according to a Boston Globe article, that cites Google Health users discovering what could be life-threatening inaccuracies in their uploaded Google Health medical records.

Google Health is designed to enable patients to store and access their medical records conveniently in one place. Unfortunately, when users import their records from other data stores, such as their physician's medical billing or claims records, the resulting inaccuracies are downright scary. The Globe cites the case of Dave deBronkar, a kidney cancer survivor who uploaded his records from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center into Google Health and was amazed at what he found:

Google said his cancer had spread to either his brain or spine - a frightening diagnosis deBronkart had never gotten from his doctors - and listed an array of other conditions that he never had, as far as he knew, like chronic lung disease and aortic aneurysm. A warning announced his blood pressure medication required "immediate attention."

Turns out the problem was due to the fact that Google Health drew info from billing records, which sometimes reflect innaccurate information plugged into codes required by insurers (for example, deBronkart's cancer at one time briefly spread to his skull, but the closest code to that was for the scary brain-spinal cord diagnosis). Dr. Paul Tang, chief medical information officer for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, who chairs a health technology panel for the National Quality Forum, says the results of such innaccuracies can be life-threatening:

An inaccurate diagnosis of gastrointestinal bleeding on a heart attack patient's personal health record could stop an emergency room doctor from administering a life-saving drug, he said.

A Google spokesman acknowledged the billing info is innaccurate at times, but said that having some info available is better than nothing. In some cases, having info in Google Health can actually save lives in a medical emergency, for example, by making a patient's medical allergy info available prior to treatment.

As with everything Google, there is a good side and a bad side. While the overall benefit of having centrally located medical information is a plus for most, users who choose to use Google Health also need to be especially vigilant. As deBronski says in his blog, if you use Google Health:

"Check it," he said. "See if it's accurate." Good advice.

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