Google launches free, online PHR site

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Google has entered the U.S. personal health record (PHR) market with the launch of its Google Health.

The company said it built a secure computer platform separate from its search system to host medical records as part of an emphasis on keeping the health information protected.

"We have put in place the firmest privacy policy we can construct," said Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search product and user experience. "It is our highest level of security."

According to the New York Times (NY Times), Google, and other companies like Microsoft and WebMD, all hope to capitalize eventually on the trend of consumers increasingly seeking health information online, and the potential of internet tools to help consumers manage their own healthcare and medical spending.

Privacy advocates, however, seek proof that online medical information will be safe from tampering or snooping, possibly from insurance companies or employers out to reduce liabilities by shunning those with health issues.

Google Health is free and enables people to have electronic copies of information such as prescriptions, lab test results, hospital stays and medical conditions stored on Google computers, Mayer said.

Users of the service dictate how the information is shared and the company said it will mine anonymous trend data along the lines of what percentage of people with diabetes using Google Health report getting flu shots.

Google search boxes are on health pages and targeted advertising is displayed with query results. Mayer said the company built protected online connections with a host of major U.S. medical service providers and is open to working with other healthcare outlets interested in crafting software to join the network.

Google Health won't be funded by advertising. Instead, the site is designed to lure more users to all of Google's services, helping boost ad revenue, Mayer said, according the Chicago Tribune.