Would you put your life in Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) hands? How about your family's health? Sounds scary, doesn't it?
The Big G is getting its Google Health initiative up to speed, and hopes that you might actually want to place your trust in a faceless search engine from California. There's big money at play here.
It's not quite as frightening as piping your browsing history into one of those Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG ) da Vinci robots and then telling it to fix you up. We're years away from that level of automation. Instead, Google can import some of your medical history into its Health systems.
The pilot program -- in Utah and Arizona -- pulls in Medicare claims data on your request. A few doctors already update your Google Health history for you if you ask very nicely. Lab services like Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX ) and pharmacies including Walgreen (NYSE: WAG ) and CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS ) are also on board, and I've already linked up my Medco Health Solutions (NYSE: MHS ) prescription management account to Google Health.
But a nationwide rollout of the Medicare partnership would be a major boost for Google's health information project. 44 million Medicare beneficiaries would get the option to manage their health information in a one-stop online shop. You can allow family members and health-care providers to read parts of your history, with password protection. The obvious privacy problems seem to be well in hand, thanks to fine-grained control over who can see or update what information.
I like the idea of having universal access to my health records, in case I ever step on a rusty nail in Guatemala or need to show a Swedish specialist why I need him. I want both Google and Microsoft to win, and then perhaps set their differences aside to interchange information with each other -- at the patient's request, of course. The Baby Boomer generation couldn't have picked a better time to approach their golden years, because health records management is moving into a new and better era.
Both HealthVault and Google Heath are free to the public and advertising-free. That may change once their user communities reach critical mass, so that Microsoft and Google can make some money here. Until then, it's a race to gather as many users as possible in a blissfully uncommercial embrace.