The Inside Dope on the New Google Health Service

After the usual lengthy alpha phase--and more than a little hullaballoo over potential privacy concerns--Google Health has launched. While it remains to be seen whether entrusting your personal health records to Google is ultimately a good idea, the service does offer some value as a convenient online place to store and manage your health information. So rather than join the fray in debating whether or not you should actually give Google Health a try, I'll just take you on a tour of the service and leave your health care privacy decisions up to you.

Logging In

To get started using Google Health, click 'Add to this Google Health profile'.
If you already have a Google account for Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, or another of the company's vast array of services, you won't need to sign up before using Google Health. Just enter your existing log-in info and you'll be ready to go. If you don't have a Google account, however, visit google.com/health and click Create a new account now to get started. The service collects only your name and requires you to select a user name and password. Once you've signed up, you'll be dropped into a fairly empty-looking profile page.

By default, Google Health will use your log-in name as your profile name. If you'd rather use your actual name (which will make your identity clearer to a doctor who looks at your printed profile later), click Settings, click your profile name, type your preferred name, and press Enter. When you're done, click Save changes and then click your updated profile name at the top of the left menu column to return to your main profile page.

To fill in your personal statistics, such as height, weight, birthdate, and so on, click Age, sex, height... under Profile Details on the left. Click Save when you've entered all of the pertinent data.

Add Info

Unless you're among the tiny handful of people whose medical services already exist in digital form and whose health care organization is ready to share them with Google Health, conveying your information to Google Health is largely a manual process. So before you move on to the next steps, you should collect your paper records and have them handy for reference. Gather any prescription receipts, lab test results, and other documents you may have filed away; then click Add to this Google Health profile.

Enter any health conditions you may have, any medications you're taking, and other important health information about yourself in the 'Add to this profile' screen.
In the 'Add to this profile' screen, you can enter any medical conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results, and immunizations relevant to your health. The interface is quite straightforward. Click the appropriate tab at the top of the screen, and then start typing the name of your condition, allergy, or what-have-you into the text field. Google Health will attempt to auto-complete your entry, showing you a list of possible matches. When you find the one you want to enter, click it and then click the +Add button. Alternatively, you can slog through the alphabetized list of choices beneath. Do this for all of the conditions, procedures, allergies, and so on that you'd like to enter.

In the not-so-distant future, every health care company you deal with--from your hospital to your insurance company to your corner pharmacy--may begin linking to sites like Google Health so you can automatically import all of their records about you and share the data with your doctor. Currently, however, only a few companies can link to your Google Health profile. But if you happen to fill your prescriptions at, say, Longs Drug Stores, you can instantly import a list of all your medications by linking your drug store profile to your Google Health profile. To use this feature, click Import medical records and browse the list for the names of health service providers that you deal with. If and when you find one, click Link to profile.

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