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Scott Shreeve, MD

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I'm the CEO of Crossover Health, a patient-centered, membership-based medical group that is redesigning the practice, delivery, and experience of health care. We offer urgent, primary, and online care to our members who can access our technology platform, practice model, and provider network from anywhere and anytime to optimize their health. Email Me



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Ginormous: Going Gaga over Google

Gaga (gä’gä’) adj.

Afflicted with or exhibiting irrationality and mental unsoundness
2. Completely absorbed, infatuated, or excited

OK, it was bound to happen. After more than a year of dithering, whispering, false (advertising) missteps, and hinting, it looks like we are going to get our first glimpse of “Google Health” (will the real Google Health please stand up). An article that appeared in the New York Times yesterday restoked the fires of possibility for Google’s anticipated tour de force entry into healthcare. My Google Alerts picked up the story, which I then tracked on my Google Reader of top healthcare blogs, which I immediately forwarded to friends via Gmail, before settling in to write this on my Google Blogspot (I hope you are picking up on the theme; kinda scary isn’t it).

Healthcare Symbolism. Google has become the very DNA of the web. Will it do the same in healthcare?

The New Atlantis magazine, in a great 2004 article, documented (Gaga over Google) our collective irrational exhuberance and pervasive adoption of Google technologies, tools, and terse approach to the web. Google is a master of simplicity (I distinctly recall the moment I first saw the Google search page which was so simple compared to the mishmash and noise of my traditional Yahoo home page); and the master of seeing (finding?) the obvious right in front of our eyes. Shortly after this first introduction, I started reading about Sergi and Brin, the “Dont’ Be Evil” Silicon Schlickity stuff, their meterioric rise to entrepreneurial knighthood, the take on the world (M$FT) attitude, the literal beauty of the advertising model, and the triple digit growth quarter after quarter. I mean, man, it is seriously unreal to have witnessed it.

But their pervasiveness comes at a price – particularly as people begin to contemplate their incredible reach into our daily lives and our personal data. I mean, consider all that stuff that I rely on Google for each day to make my life better (as listed above) and how much of my personal information that they already know about me and my behaviors. Every click sends a message to the Google Borg who immediately responds with all kinds of personal, timely, and relevant information back to me. At some point, the convenience and ease and wizardry with which all this happens begins to make you start feeling uncomfortable. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but somebody should turn up the volume on that “Don’t Be Evil” theme song to make me feel better.

It is totally obvious that the democratization of the internet, and all forms of data, will ultimately lead to an effort to democratize the most valuable data of all – your personal health information. I have argued previously that your personal healthcare information will be a form of currency in the future. As such, we all need to begin building equity in the brand by protecting it, defending it, and leveraging these protections to our advantage.

Which brings us to Google Health. I have trusted them with all kinds of my other information – would I trust them with my personal health information? I am still considering it. While I noodle on that, I can observe what they are doing with their concept of a personal health record. As per the Google playbook, the personal health record they are developing is very simple, very plain, and most likely very powerful. The Google PHR has all the right elements, the Sacred 7 of demographics, medications, allergies, diagnosis/problems, medical history/test results, immunizations, and family history.

The Google PHR isn’t really much to look at, and it is certainly not very sexy. However, as Google learned with search, the PHR as a “thing” is irrelevant; it is the PHR as a form of currency (data mining, ad revenue, messaging, analytics, genomics, personalized medicine, etc) that will make it powerful. The more information they have about you, the more valuable it becomes to them and a whole host of other people who will want access to this most personal of all information. The more valuable it becomes to them, the more valuable it should be to you, particularly if you know how to protect your investment.

Reminds me of the movie 1992 move Sneakers, where Ben Kingsley’s character Cosmo, delivers this prescient

There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!

That’s a game wherein Google has been pervasively successful. And it is that pervasiveness that will enable the Google Health initiative to be GINORMIS!*

* Yes – it is a real word officially as of 2007 thanks to Merriam-Webster

3 comments on “Ginormous: Going Gaga over Google

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting piece. I don’t think I could go out there and trust all my healthcare informatin to Google. I just find it hard to believe that they have my best health interests at heart. I’ve looked into the PHR industry and have found some interesting concepts out there. I really think companies such as are keen into what patients are going to value in their record – PRIVACY. I have an account with them and I control everything that goes into my record. And I have control as to which doctors have access to MY record. I just don’t feel that attachment with Google. You get what you pay for.

  2. Ford says:

    The “Convergence of the Health Industry” paper is freely available here.

  3. Tony Hesketh says:

    Would Google be able to use any information given to them for marketing purposes? It seems to me that they’d be able to adhere to any HIPAA or other privacy restrictions while data-mining my PHR (and then subsequently flashing Allegra ads at me in my Gmail to treat my allergies…)

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