A day after breaking an almost year-long silence on a medical condition that had affected the way he speaks, Google co-founder Larry Page said Wednesday that people should be more open about their medical histories.
“I just disclosed yesterday my voice issues, I got so many thoughtful emails from people and advice,” he said answering an audience question at the Google I/O developer event in San Francisco. Page said he had originally thought his own medical information should be very private, but the response he got from his blog post caused a rethink.
“At least in my case I feel I should have done it sooner and I’m not sure that answer isn’t true for most people, so I ask why are people so focused on keeping your medical history private?”
Page began skipping public appearances in July last year due to an issue affecting his vocal chords, but at the time didn’t disclose the precise nature of the problem. Google too declined to comment on the matter leading some to question whether CEOs should be more public about their health conditions. The issue has been brought to the forefront in the last couple of years after Apple CEO Steve Jobs battled and ultimately lost a battle with cancer.
On Tuesday, Page blogged that since age 14 he has had a nerve problem that has caused his left vocal cord to be partially paralyzed. A cold last summer affected his second vocal chord, leaving him unable to speak. While his voice has returned it’s much softer and quieter that it was before.
The Google CEO guessed most people are guarded about their medical history because of insurance reasons.
“You’re very worried that you’re going to be denied insurance. That makes no sense, so maybe we should change the rules around insurance so that they have to insure people,” he said to a round of applause.
While insurance might be one issue, the intensely private nature of the information in a medical record is probably why most people want it kept private.
Google declined to comment on Page’s comments and whether he would be releasing medical information in the future.
Earlier in the question and answer session, Page spoke of a frustration with laws that were preventing Google from doing some experiments. Health records was just one such area where legal restrictions ultimately led to the closure of its Google Health service.
“We haven’t built mechanisms to allow experimentation. There are many things, exciting things that you could do that you just can’t do because they are illegal or they are not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense, we don’t want our world to change too fast,” he said. (You can read a complete transcript of Page’s remarks at TechHive.)
“I think as technologists, we should have places where we can try out new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what is the effect on people without having to deploy it into the real world,” he said.
The idea of a special legal zone came up several times during his remarks.
Google wouldn’t comment on whether this was something Page is actively proposing or pursuing or whether it represents company policy.