Google Health logoThis week, Google unveiled Google Health, its long-awaited portal for storing patient medical records. This is another promising development in the long, slow movement to better use of information technology (IT) in health care. As matters stand, most patient records are stored on paper and housed inaccessibly in physicians’ offices, despite the revolution in IT which has transformed most other sectors of the American economy (see my New Atlantis article “The Clipboard of the Future” for more on the health IT conundrum).

The new Google portal is free to users. Data must be entered into the system by participating medical providers or the patients themselves. So far, Google has signed up a handful of high-profile participating providers, including the highly respected Cleveland Clinic. Patients getting care with these providers can have their medical information automatically uploaded into their Google Health account. But, most physicians and hospitals do not yet have the ability to easily place patient data onto the Internet, so Google Health users will have to rely on themselves to keep their patient information complete and up-to-date.

Microsoft Health Vault logoGoogle’s new health venture will compete directly with Microsoft’s Health Vault, launched in 2007. Both companies have invested heavily in privacy protection to give users confidence that their online patient records are secure.