By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO and WILLIAM M. BULKELEY
Wall Street Journal
Google Inc., moving to improve its online health-record service, is teaming with International Business Machines Corp. to allow patients to add data generated from home-health monitoring products, such as blood-pressure cuffs and glucose meters.
The companies said software developed by IBM, with consumers' permission, can shift the data into a personal health record in Google Health, the search giant's service for helping consumers manage and store their health information online. Other software lets the patient transfer the information from there to an electronic medical record kept by providers like health-care companies and primary-care physicians.
At a time when the Obama administration has made electronic health records a priority and included funds in the stimulus plan to encourage providers to adopt records, the collaboration between the two companies has the potential to "kick-start" use of online monitoring of chronic diseases, said Dan Pelino, general manager of health care and life sciences for IBM.
Both IBM Chief Executive Samuel Palmisano and Google CEO Eric Schmidt have been prominent in business leaders' meetings with President Obama on high-tech stimulus measures.
Still, the electronic health-records industry -- and Google's attempt to help spur and organize it -- are in a very early phase. While major insurers have migrated medical records for tens of millions of patients online, only a few hundred thousand patients have claimed and actively updated their information through their providers or other services like Google Health and Microsoft Corp.'s HealthVault, estimates Harry Wang, a research analyst for Parks Associates.
Sameer Samat, director of Google Health, declined to say how many patients have uploaded their own personal health information into Google's system or imported records from partners, which include Cleveland Clinic, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and a number of pharmacies.
Google is "pretty happy with the progress so far," he said, while acknowledging that feedback from consumers has been mixed. "We have had a lot of people who are really happy with us and who rave, and probably more people who say it is a great start and here is what we want to see" for features, he said.
The new IBM partnership, he said, will help consumers round out their medical records with daily health information, like their blood pressure, that is often difficult to organize. Diabetes patients at home could check their blood sugar at the same time each day and upload the information. If the system detected a sharp change, it could alert a relative or a visiting nurse to check on the patient.
To tap as much information as possible, IBM designed the software to use computer standards agreed to by the Continua Health Alliance, a large consortium of technology companies and medical device makers spearheaded by Intel Corp.
Any device built with electronic-communication capabilities that adhere to the Continua standards will be able to send information to a Google Health account via the IBM software, said Mr. Pelino. So far, Continua says one device has been officially certified and several more are going through the process.
To take advantage of the data through Google, patients will have to create a Google account and grant permission for their data to be imported into their health profile.
Both Google and IBM hope that the partnership will encourage the adoption of portable monitoring devices. While many medical devices already have communicating capabilities, they generally rely on custom-built interfaces rather than a single standard for communications.
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