Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, is working with Google to pilot a new information system that will give patients control over their health records.

Over 100,000 patients with the Clinic already use the Clinic's electronic personal health record (PHR) system. The pilot will extend an invitation for up to 10,000 existing PHR users to trial the new Google based version.

The pilot will test the secure transmission and exchange of information about patient prescriptions, conditions and allergies between the patients' existing PHR system and a secure Google account.

The aim is to give patients control over their health information and to be able to share it with doctors, pharmacists, and health service providers, as they choose.

Chief Information Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr C Martin Harris, said patients are becoming more proactive about managing their own healthcare information, and:

"At Cleveland Clinic, we strive to participate in and help to advance the national dialogue around a more efficient and effective national healthcare system."

Experience and lessons learned from design and use of the Cleveland Clinic PHR will hopefully help Google test facilities that will eventually allow all American patients to control who sees their medical information among various health service providers, without breaching their privacy, said Harris.

Eventually, the new system's data portability feature will allow patients to take their information outside of the Cleveland Clinic PHR system. They will be able to take it with them wherever they go.

Vice President for Search Products and User Experience at Google, Marissa Mayer, said:

"We believe patients should be able to easily access and manage their own health information."

"We chose Cleveland Clinic as one of the first partners to pilot our new health offering because as a provider, they already empower their patients by giving them online tools that help them manage their medical records online and coordinate care with their doctors," she added.

By teaming up with the Google platform, the Cleveland Clinic is pioneering a way that will eventually give nationwide access to electronic medical records at no cost to the provider or the user. The joint system will have three main features:
  • National access: a "working interoperability model" will drive a more efficient and effective healthcare information system by moving records from a "closed" model to one that is "open and connected".

  • Consumer empowerment: the secure, patient-centred, consumer-driven tool will give each patient more control over his or her medical care, without compromising privacy.

  • 24/7 Access and portability: patients will be able to access their records at any time, thus increasing the opportunity for them to "actively engage in their health care".
President and Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Clinic and member of the Google Health Advisory Council, Dr Delos M "Toby" Cosgrove, said:

"The partnership with Google is an example of true innovation in health care which brings value to patients and providers."

"As the volume of medical information available to patients increases, it becomes more important for doctors and patients to use this information in a way that empowers the patient to be more collaborative with their care providers," added Cosgrove.

Alan Newberger, Engineering Manager with the Google Health team, said he was excited to be working on the project and commented that the healthcare industry has been working hard to convert information on doctor visits, prescriptions, test results and procedures to digital format.

He wrote in an official Google healthcare blog earlier today that the "GData protocol" used in many Google products already supported medical information standards used in formats like the Continuity of Care Record (CCR). These will help patients to access, store and communicate their health information.

Newberger explained that patients taking part in the Cleveland pilot will give authorization via an interface called "AuthSub" to allow Google to import their PHR electronic medical records into a Google account in a safe and secure manner.

"It's great to see our product getting into the hands of end users, and I look forward to the feedback that the Cleveland patients will provide us," wrote Newberger, who also emphasized that the data is private to the patient, and only he or she decides who else sees it, be they family members, doctors or other health care providers.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic press statement, Official Google Blog: Healthcare.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD