What is Google Health?

Google Health is a free online service operated by the Google™ corporation. It allows members to create accounts through which they can track their personal health, set health and fitness goals, and share that information and progress with others. If a member’s healthcare providers are part of the system, the member can also download her medical information directly into her account. The advertised intent is to allow members to collect all of their health and wellness data in one place and store it online.

Members of Google Health can choose the level of information they wish to provide, and how they want to use the program. Those that wish to import their personal health records from their healthcare providers must first verify that those professionals are a part of the Google Health network. Though membership in the network is free to providers such as doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals, not all are aware of the service, and some may have reservations about electronic data security. Others may simply elect not to participate for reasons of their own. Those that do participate usually require the patient to sign a release form that grants the provider permission to transmit the patient’s private information to Google Health. If one or more of a member’s providers is not connected to the system, the member may request a hard copy of her records, and manually load them into her profile.

Some members use Google Health simply to track their own progress on health-related goals. These may include losing weight, cutting out sugar, exercising more frequently, or reducing caffeine intake. The program may also be used to track smoking or alcohol cessation programs. Members may use the program as a health journal. Recording the frequency and conditions of symptoms can be helpful in reaching a diagnoses or maximizing treatment benefits.

Google™ states that it protects all member information and preserves anonymity. Members may, however, opt to share some or all of their information with others. They can also choose to make information public, keep it private, or allow access only by specified parties. For example, a member might want to allow her primary care physician to access to her full medical records so that the doctor can make the most informed decision about her care or may want to allow a friend or family member to access her records so that the information is available in case of an emergency. As long as the physician or other individual has a Google Health account, the member can provide access to her information.

Certain rules of membership do apply. All users must be at least 18 years of age, must be mentally competent to make healthcare decisions for themselves, and must sign a standard user agreement. As of 2010, Google Health is available only to U.S. residents.

Google™ specifies that it does not provide advice or medical opinions. It also does not post advertisements on the site. Members of Google Health may sell products or services to other members, but no member is under obligation to buy.