Google built its name on search and continues to grow its business in mobile and the cloud. Now the company is quietly acquiring medical records on millions of Americans. And the exact reason for that is still unclear, according to a new report.

Through partnerships with hospital systems, health care providers, and other organizations, Google has quietly acquired medical records of tens of millions of Americans, The Wall Street Journal is reporting. In some cases, the company has full-view access to the records, according to the report, allowing Google to see names, medical histories, and even the medications people take.

But it's not done. The Journal, which cited unidentified sources in its reporting, also found that Google tried to acquire 250 million health records from health information company Cerner recently. While the efforts didn't pan out, it was indicative of a broader quest by Google to collect as many health records as possible.

So, why might Google want those records?

According to the Journal, Google is working on a new search engine that would be used by doctors and nurses, allowing them to easily find information about a patient. More important, the search engine would act as a repository for information sharing, so when you go to one doctor, another doctor will have easy access to your data to see diagnoses, medications, and more. Ultimately, Google believes the effort will improve health outcomes.

For now, though, there are far more questions than answers. While technology can certainly be used to improve health outcomes, there are questions over whether Google, or any other big tech company, for that matter, should have such ready access to some of Americans' most intimate data. And implications over privacy and how Google would monetize the content is another major concern.

For its part, Google has made clear that it wants to be a responsible steward of that data. Dr. David Feinberg, the head of Google Health, told the Journal that Google doesn't plan to use advertising to monetize the data. He added that his goal is to make people healthier by using Google's technology.

A spokesman for the company added that Google is only accessing health care data on Americans and doesn't actually own it.

Still, if anything is clear, it's that technology will continue to play an important role in health care records and how they're stored and shared in the coming years. And while Google may not have started as a health company, it's abundantly clear from the Journal's report that it sees itself moving in that direction.

The issue, however, is whether Google is right for the job. Or, for that matter, if any tech company is right for the job. Either way, it seems Americans have little choice since their data is being traded behind the scenes with no clarity into when or how.

Published on: Jan 13, 2020
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