The slow but steady march towards a unified online healthcare management system continues. Google has announced that it has forged a new partnership with CVS, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains, allowing CVS customers to import their full prescription history into Google Health. CVS joins other major pharmacies including Longs Drugs and Walgreens in offering the same functionality, which combined now allow over 100 million Americans to import their medical histories into Google Health, which launched last May.
It may not sound terribly exciting at first, but the ability to quickly look up a patient’s past and current medications is actually very important in an age when it seems that nearly everyone is on at least one prescription medication. While national pharmacies can typically look up what medications you’ve filled from other branches of their store, they can’t search through the systems of other chains, so they’re forced to rely on the patient to self-report their medical history.
Unfortunately most people have pretty poor memories when it comes to remembering their current and past medications, especially when they’re taking generic drugs, which can lead to some very dangerous drug combinations (the Google blog post notes that as many as 1.5 million Americans a year are harmed by dangerous medication interactions). By aggregating prescription histories in a single place (which users can then share with their doctors and loved ones), Google Health can help cut down on these harmful drug interactions.
Of course, a central hub for your prescription history is only really useful if you can import all of your prescriptions, not just most of them. And Google Health is still missing out on a few major players, including national store chains like Wal-Mart and Target. Google won’t comment on who they’re currently in talks with, but I suspect they’re trying to get as many of these chains on board as possible.
Google Health doesn’t seem to get as much attention as many of Google’s other properties, but my guess is that it will be among the company’s most important assets a few years down the line. The American healthcare system makes accessing past records, prescriptions, test results, and other important data a huge hassle, not to mention the ridiculously confusing (and uncentralized) hubs offered by health insurers and pharmacies. There are privacy issues abound with a centralized system (the fact that Google insists on labeling its health product as a Beta is definitely unsettling, as are the company’s past security issues), but the potential benefits may well outweigh the risks.