Globe Editorial

Google Health: Dead of neglect

July 19, 2011

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When a tornado devastated parts of Missouri in May, the paper records at one hospital in the city of Joplin were destroyed; X-rays were found scattered as far as 75 miles away. The disaster underscored the urgent need for switching to electronic health records, which offer lower costs, reduced possibility of medical errors - and obvious security advantages.

That’s why Google’s announcement last month that it would discontinue its Google Health service, a way for individual consumers to store their health records online, is such discouraging news. When even a company of Google’s size and clout has trouble attracting patients, it shows that too much of the public remains skeptical about electronic health records, or would simply rather not think about the way their health information is handled. Google reported that tech-savvy users and fitness fanatics formed the core users for the service, an unsustainably small base. Most people simply didn’t care enough to save their records online.

The demise of Google Health isn’t going to stop the nationwide transition to electronic medical records. At the insistence of the federal government, doctors and hospitals have to adopt electronic record-keeping by 2015 or face penalties. So far, pressure from the public is the missing part of the equation. But patients need to start being more demanding, too.