Google Health Privacy Issues and Concerns - The Database Isn't Required to Conform to HIPAA Standards

Page content

Google Health is a fairly new offering from Google that allows account holders to track their personal health information all in one place, and decide if they want to share that information with doctors and family members. The health management tool has several useful features including the ability to import medical records, record medications, allergies, and procedures, and find a doctor based on name, location, or specialty. While these tools are useful, there are also some concerns about using Google Health for personal health management.


The privacy of personal health information is a hot-button issue around the globe. Most people think HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects them by regulating the privacy of their personal health information. What most users don’t know is that Google Health does not have to abide by HIPAA, as they are not considered a covered entity. Instead, Google Health is considered to be a method of health care record storage. Many opponents of Google Health are concerned that user data will be shared with insurance companies. Even if user names are not revealed, the insurance companies could use geographic data as the basis for raising premiums in certain cities or states. Because Google has already demonstrated a willingness to share user information with others, privacy is a valid concern.

Information Security

Because Google Health is an online application, there are many concerns about the security of all user data. Major companies, such as TJMaxx, have had data breaches that resulted in information being stolen and distributed around the world. Even though Google has taken steps to protect information, there is no sure-fire way to make sure a data breach does not happen. Should a breach occur, user information could be sold or shared with others, leading to negative consequences.

Advertising Issues

Of course, Google Health will want to monetize Google Health in some way. The best way to do this would be to serve advertising to physicians and patients. Advertising patients isn’t likely to harm anyone, but advertising to physicians can result in a change in the way physicians treat their patients, leading to disastrous consequences. If Google Health serves ads from insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies, physicians may be swayed into using a less expensive treatment than planned, even if it isn’t the best treatment for a particular condition. Physicians may also prescribe more costly drugs to patients because of influence by pharmaceutical ads, leading to more people who cannot afford their prescriptions. While online health management tools can help people become more involved in their healthcare, there are many issues that need to be addressed before Google Health should be used on a widespread basis.