"Who owns your medical test results and personal health data?"
I read the headline five times and still couldn't believe it wasn't a rhetorical question. But apparently, the increasing access that third parties have to our medical records and other health information has opened the topic for debate.
The driving force behind the recent controversy is a new technological development called a personal health record, or PHR. PHRs are electronic files that will contain a person's complete health history. The idea is to give people access to their own PHRs, allowing them "to have greater control of their health data."
But the problem is you're not the only one who will have access to your PHR. While the team lobbying for widespread adoption of PHRs "suggests" that people will own and manage their own information, "other authorised healthcare workers can access the information at any time." The article I read didn't elaborate on who, exactly will be considered an "authorised healthcare worker," but I'd be willing to bet that anyone who can afford it will be able to buy as much "authority" as they want.
And not long after I read this article, I came across the first instance of PHRs in action. Last month, the Internet search engine, Google.com, launched its version, called Google Health. It's being marketed as a convenient way to keep track of your health information - a simple addition to the daily online rituals, like checking email and monitoring bank account balances that most of us are already doing. Google wants you to think of it as a tool to make your life easier: A one-stop- shopping resource to keep tabs on prescriptions you need to get refilled, doctor's appointments you have coming up, and online delivery of results from medical tests you've undergone, not to mention the ability to search for new doctors and all the health information the Web has to offer. And of course, they assure you that you have complete control of your account and all of its contents.
But when I signed up for my own Google Health account, I quickly discovered that I wasn't so much buying into the concept of PHRs as I was selling my soul - or at least any information I dared to enter into my account - to the devil.
Before you can even establish your Google Health account you must agree to their terms of service. And if you take the time to actually scroll through the whole thing, you discover that "Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google in…limited circumstances" - like when a company affiliated with Google asks for it.
Thanks to all the PHR-advocates out there, including Google.com, who want to make my life "easier," but I think I'd prefer the old-fashioned way of keeping tabs on my health information: paper files organized and stored in a locked filing cabinet in my home office.