Is Google eyeing big data analytics in electronic medical records?

Google might be getting into the analytics of electronic medical records (“EMR” or “EHR” for electronic health records). Google’s Co-CEO, Larry Page, was interviewed during the company’s Google I/O event. He noted that health care data is not collected or collected in a meaningful way. This is due to concerns of privacy and regulations. He pondered what impact access to health care data would have on society. He figured Google could save 100,000 lives in the next year if it could develop health care data analytics.

If Google was given access to personal health care data, what would the impact be on society? What considerations would Google need to make if it could improve the analysis of epidemiological data?

Option to opt in

Google would need to let people opt in or out of participating in medical records mining. People who opt in must also not be identifiable individually. That way, their data remains anonymous and the mining of their records could not in any way identify an individual’s identity.

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Related benefits

In making EMRs more accessible for data analytics, hospitals and health care professionals would first need to move away from storing information on paper. This move would have a high initial cost, but the benefit to society as a whole would improve. It would be possible to better understand disease pathology, health care trends, and help build correlations among many traits with health issues. Patterns among genetics, environment, and demographics might be found in relation to diseases.

Tracking technology getting there

Software firms that build analytics solutions against the aggregate health care data might have more information to work with. The advent of wearable technology makes it possible for tracking an individual’s personal habits. Smart phones also have similar advantages to wearable technology in that they are nearly always carried by their owners. This would make collecting whatever data possible and in real-time.

Solutions that track diseases in real-time have significant benefits. Identifying the source, path, and spread of disease involves cluster data. Having this data could help solve diseases, by stopping further spread.

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Canada ahead in EMR

Unlike in the United States, development for EMR in Canada is progressing.  Since 2001, the Government of Canada funded a not-for-profit corporation called Canada Health Infoway. Its charge to facilitate health care transformation includes developing health information standards, providing tools and services for technology vendors, and working with the clinical community to enhance its value.

Telus Health is leading the charge in the tech field. The unit acquired Med Access Inc. back in March, 2014. The unit spent over a billion dollars so far.

Last month, Doctors of the World Canada said its mobile medical clinic would be equipped with TELUS Health technology. Doctors may store patient registrations using the technology, along with tracking test results.


In Google’s case, rules might be needed disallowing the company from scraping health data and then sending targeted ads to users. That way, the use of the data would benefit primarily the health care system, instead of being another source of advertising revenue.

Anonymity is key

It cannot be stressed enough that EMR data collected be anonymous. Insurance companies or advertisers that could identify individuals would undermine the ownership of the medical record. Individuals must always own the data. That means they decide how their information is used.

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Building a solution that collects EMR big data is a long way away, for Google, but it could still happen soon. Google could learn from the initiatives already taking place in Canada. Policies and standards used here are also applicable to any EMR projects in the U.S. Still, Google’s ambitious entrance in EMR will have value to society. Its powerful analytics could help save lives, especially if the information it stores and analyzes is in real-time. Tech firms that design analytics software or data centres should start embracing for this possibility.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Chris Lau
Chris Lau
In search for alpha. Telecom, media, technology. Social media. Financial Markets. Real-Estate Agent. Seeking Alpha Contributor. Toronto, Ontario ·

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