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It seems Google has everything covered, ranging from e-mail, photos, video, documents, and now, our health. On March 2008, Google announced the launch of Google Health, the company’s personal health record project, which allows consumers to add their health information to a digital record online, import prescription information from pharmacies and share that record with their doctor.
Digitalizing the health care system in the United States forms a major challenge for the nation’s hospitals and doctors. In despite of the rapid development in information systems and technology which digitalized everything surrounds us from the structure of organizations to the delivery of education; “only under 15% of American medical practices keep their medical records online” (Laudon, 2010, p.184), which confirm that digitalizing the health care system is an obstacle. This obstacle presents an “opportunity for Google to take a big step into the healthcare IT, following other major companies like Microsoft”(Thorman, 2010),
Beyond wanting a competitive edge with Microsoft, the reason that made Google get involved into the Healthcare field is still vague. Google claims that its main mission of providing Google Healthcare is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”(“Google health,” 2010).
On the horizon, Google’s ambitious project is facing many arguments from individuals and Privacy advocates who are claiming that storing private and sensitive information online may “breaches individuals privacy which might lead to losing their health insurance or job opportunities because currently HIPAA-the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996-provides very limited protections for personal medical records and there is no federal privacy protections patients who set up personal health records online” (Laudon, 2010, p.184). This fear among users and patients may hamper the expansion of using Google Healthcare unless Google reassure the public by providing more information about their security levels to make them confident about their private and sensitive information. Also to encourage and motivate the public for using Google Healthcare, “lawmakers should provide further legislations to impose privacy controls and provide more protections for personal medical records” (Laudon, 2010, p.184).
Many Medical practices, hospitals, doctors, lawmakers, and government officials are proponents of Google mission and the expansion of electronic health records, “which is one of the major goals of the federal government’s push for nationwide electronic medical record adoption to create an information network where “health data can flow freely, privately, and securely to the places where they are needed.” Also Google’s mission is the driving force behind the government’s $19 billion EMR incentive program to transform the United States Healthcare system” (Thorman, 2010). These incentives provide an opportunity for Google to lead the transformation of Healthcare systems.
Key Issues and Concepts
“Ethical and Social Issues in Information Systems” (Laudon, 2010, p.184), this chapter describes many invaluable ethical and social concepts and issues which developed due to the advancement and expansion of information systems and technology. This case study about the involvement of Google in Healthcare illustrates some of those concepts and gives us more explanation of their meanings by relating them to a real live scenario. So let’s go through some of these concepts and explain how they relate to the Google case study:
Responsibility – accepting the potential costs, duties, and obligations for decisions. Google by creating its online Healthcare system should assume the full responsibility for securing and protecting individual’s data and ensure that the usage of these data is being used only for authorized purposes.
Accountability – a feature of systems and social institutions: It means that mechanisms are in place to determine who took responsible action. Again, Google must ensure accountability of its systems and those responsible for creating and maintaining the system.
Liability – a feature of political systems in which a body of laws is in place that permits individuals to recover the damages done to them by other actors, systems, or organizations. Federal and state governments must pass and enforce laws protecting medical data and its uses. Google must assume liability for the system (Week5: ethical and social, 2009)
I believe that Google should have the major responsibility for securing and protecting our personal data, also as users we are responsible for the security of our data by having a good line of defense systems such as anti-virus and Spyware software installed on our PCs. Also we should educate ourselves to a level where we can have a reasonable knowledge of security methods against online threats and identity thefts. One needs to be very proactive when entering and keeping personal data online to avoid ending up as one of the Internet victims because ignoring this fact in most cases leads to harmful effects.
There are at least three moral dimensions which play a major role in the proposed system (Week5: ethical and social, 2009):
Information rights and obligations
Accountability and control
There are many stakeholders who are involved in this case including patients and health-care consumers, doctors and other medical professionals, insurance companies, health-care related businesses like pharmaceutical companies, governments, and storage providers like Google, Microsoft and Revolution Health Group.
In despite of some privacy and security concerns, I strongly support having an organized electronic health records which in most cases help when switching between different doctors and other medical professionals to give them a shot of your health history and reduce your medical costs as a consequence of repeating the same diagnosis exams every time you visit a different doctor.
“Patients need to be able to better coordinate and manage their own health information. We believe that patients should control and own their own health information, and should be able to do so easily,” said Adam Bosworth in November 2006.
Current Medical Recordkeeping System
We notice that on every visit to a clinic or a doctor’s office, Shelves full of folders and papers devoted to the storage of medical records. Despite the rapid development in information systems and technology in every aspect of our life, also we have seen a big jump in the development of medical devices, but the aged system used for medical recordkeeping decades ago, unfortunately, is the same system our medical practices and hospitals are still using now. Only under15% of American medical practices keep their medical records online and the rest uses the current recordkeeping system which is paper-based, that makes effective communications and access difficult. The current system for recording and storing medical information makes it difficult, if not impossible, to systematically examine and share the data. It’s also very expensive and time-consuming to maintain paper-based medical records (Rampy, 2008).
I think the reasons mentioned above are more than enough to make us wake up, stop using the very old system, and support Google in achieving its mission for providing an electronic medical record system. Google’s proposed electronic medical record system would allow consumers to enter their basic medical data into an online repository and invite doctors to send relevant information to Google electronically. “One feature of the system will include a ‘health profile’ for medications, conditions, and allergies, reminder messages for prescription refills or doctor visits, directories for nearby doctors, and personalized health advice. The application will also be able to accept information from many different recordkeeping technologies currently in use by hospitals and other institutions. The intent of the system is to make patients’ records easily accessible, especially in emergencies, and more complete and to streamline recordkeeping” (Week5: ethical and social, 2009).
According to the site, Google Health can
Organize your health information all in one place
Gather your medical records from doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies
Keep your doctors up to date about your health
Be more informed about important health issues
How Google Health Works
“Google lists 7 Steps to Easy Use of Google Health
Sign Up: For you and Google’s Health Partners, the service is free. (Must be 18 or older to create a profile.)
Start tracking your medical history and learn about your conditions
Import Your Medical Records from your doctor’s office or pharmacy. (Walgreens is already a partner.)
View Your Medical History
Discover and learn how your different medications interact
Use Google Health to your own advantage: get second opinions, request prescription refills
Search for doctors and hospitals” (Rampy, 2008)
Here are some images that show Google Health beta with some of its capabilities
This image demonstrates new features, making it easy to share your medical records and personal health information with family, friends, and doctors.
These websites offer personal health services and you can import your medical records from them to your Google Health account.
Critical Factors to the development of Electronic Medical Records
“The most critical factors to the creation and development of electronic medical records are: management, organization, and technology.
Management: Electronic recordkeeping promises to reduce costs associated with maintaining health data. However, the upfront costs of implementation are daunting, especially to doctors who maintain their own practices. Managers would have to ensure data was not used for profiling patients or use the data to deny medical procedures. Managers would also have to ensure data was not misused for purposes other than what is intended.
Organization: The new system promises to make data more organized and easier to retrieve. Organizations must ensure that data is not used for profiling and not used in the data analysis technology called nonobvious relationship awareness. Government, private, and non-profit organizations must pass new laws, similar to the HIPAA law, that provides adequate protection of consumer health data. That would help reassure patients and make them more likely to use the system.
Technology: New systems must be able to mesh with other versions of medical record-keeping applications. The software must be created around universal standards making implementation easier and more efficient. Above all else, technology must be created to prevent security breaches. Systems must be available one-hundred percent of the time, especially to obtain medical information for emergency patients.
All three factors must work together to prevent privacy invasions and ensure medical data is not misused or abused” (Week5: ethical and social, 2009).
The pros and cons of electronic patient records
Pros (Week5: ethical and social, 2009).
Electronic patient records include more efficient access and dissemination of medical data, especially in emergencies. The costs of gathering, storing, and disseminating medical data promise to be lower with electronic health records.
Electronic health records stand to provide much-needed organization and efficiency to the healthcare industry. Proponents of electronic health records argue that computer technology, once fully implemented, would enhance security rather than threaten it.
“Electronic health records with Google Health makes juggling your and/or your family’s health records, coverage, medications, etc. easier as it allows for people to set up accounts for others, importing of medical records from medical, dentistry or eye care” (Rampy, 2008).
Allows for self-management in a central location and for one to be more informed and educated about health choices and decisionsâ€¦as well as better following finances for your health coverage.
“Users of Google Health can import medical records from U.S. pharmacies and medical facilities that include Longs Drug Stores, Walgreens Pharmacy, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and several others” (Rampy, 2008).
“First and foremost, include privacy concerns over how the data will be captured, stored, and used. Security breaches already occur with some medical data systems and Google’s proposed system is subject to the same threats. People are worried that sensitive information legitimately accessible via electronic health records might lead to their losing health insurance or job opportunities” (Week5: ethical and social, 2009).
Some of the privacy and security concerns that most individuals are thinking about are: “Who at Google will see this information? What will be done with it? Why does Google want to get into the Healthcare fieldâ€¦.beyond wanting a competitive edge with Microsoft? (Rampy, 2008).
I believe that the concerns about digitizing our medical records are valid because such sensitive information is fatal and if “breached might lead individuals to losing their health insurance or job opportunities especially with the lack of federal privacy protections for patients who set up personal health records online and the very limited protections for personal medical records in HIPAA-the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 “(Laudon, 2010, p.185).
To alleviate these concerns about the privacy and security of our records, government should act some legislations that protect individuals privacy and their personal health records, Also Google should demonstrate to the public their security measures to make them confident about their personal data.
Google is an innovative and prestigious company that wants to have a competitive advantage over other competitors like Microsoft. So I believe that people should trust Google with their medical records for many reasons
Google’s reassurances that its security is iron-tight and that businesses and individuals should have confidence in its ability to store and protect data (Laudon, 2010, p.184).
According to the site Google Health, Google uses sophisticated security techniques to help keep your information secure and private, and you always control how it’s used. Google will never sell your data. You are in control. You choose what you want to share and what you want to keep private.
Recommendation & Alternatives
The current medical recordkeeping system in the United States is aged, inefficient, and didn’t cope with the rapid development in information systems and technology, and I assume that everyone knows about this bitter fact. So that the Healthcare System in the U.S. needs to be entirely updated to an electronic system which is more efficient, cost-effective, and provide an easy way for organizing and manipulating medical records.
Although there are some privacy and security concerns associated with this proposed system which many individuals and privacy advocates argue about, but the benefits of implementing this system outweigh its drawbacks. Government is already taking initiative by providing $19 billion EMR incentive program to transform the United States Healthcare system. Also Google took an initiative by launching its new system Google Health which allows importing and storing medical records and sharing them with doctors and other professional practices based on users’ wellness and control.
There are adequate remedies that will take care of privacy concerns and make people confident in supporting and using the proposed system, some of these remedies are:
Government should take more initiatives and act additional legislations to impose privacy controls and provide more protections for personal medical records.
Google should demonstrate its capabilities and provide more information about its security measures in protecting and securing individuals’ personal data.
Google must give some public information about its benefits of providing such service and why it’s getting involved in Healthcare field, because many people think Google will sell their personal data to third parties as a return for its investments.
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