Google Health stumbles over insurance claims data

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Insurance data used by online personal health records such as Google's and Microsoft's are prone to inaccuracies, due to the diagnostic coding language or due to mislabeling.

The Boston Globe on Monday examined how Google's no-cost PHR for patients has raised concerns from patients and physicians that incorrect data could prompt improper treatment. Google, Microsoft and other companies offer consumers a voluntary, cost-free means of creating a personal health record online and sharing it with healthcare providers.

However, experts said that the insurance data that they use is "prone to inaccuracies, partly because of the clunky diagnostic coding language used for medical billing, or because doctors sometimes label a test with the disease they hope to rule out," the Globe reported.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is one hospital that will no longer submit insurance claims data. Instead, it plans to send to Google Health written text descriptions of patients' medical problems.

While the coded format made it easy for the website to refer patients to other medical websites for information about their conditions, such linkage will still be possible for most of the medical terms in the hospital's records, according to Beth Israel's CIO John Halamka,MD.

Google said the system uses information and claims data provided by a number of sources, such as partner hospitals, pharmacies and laboratories. The company noted that while the billing information can sometimes be inaccurate, the overall benefit to patients "is increased because having some information is better than not having any information." Experts have said that the accuracy of the information will eventually improve as better coding language used for it is adopted in the years ahead, the Globe reported.