In February 2008, UnitedHealth Group launched its own Web site for people to store their personal health information. The website competitor’s include Microsoft and Google.

The service, at lets people create their own digital-health records, putting the health insurer into direct competition with Microsoft’s HealthVault and Google Health. Microsoft launched its site in 2007, ahead of Google, which went live with its offering in 2008. All three sites provide their service free of charge.

Like other health-portals, such as WebMD, UnitedHealth’s new site is open to all comers — not just clients of the insurer — and features information about medical conditions and diseases. The insurer also plans to market its products, such as medical, dental and vision insurance through the site. Rivals insurers, such as Aetna and WellPoint already offer digital-health records through their sites, but to a narrower group of consumers: health-plan members and employees of large corporate clients, the Wall Street Journal writes.
It’s hard to know whether such services will catch on. Proponents of personal digital health records argue that creating a single repository where consumers can store their health information and share it with medical professionals gives consumers more control over and a bigger stake in their health care. The World Privacy Forum, however, argues that such convenience could ultimately come at a high price: consumers’ privacy. You can read a copy of their report on the risks here.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a federal law, provides minimum national privacy and security standards for personal medical information. The rules, however, apply only to “covered entities” – health-care providers, health insurers and companies that administer health plans – rather than to the medical record itself. Unless the personal health records vendor is considered a “covered entity,” HIPAA doesn’t apply.

Tech and Internet companies that operate personal health records services aren’t considered covered entities, and are therefore not bound by HIPAA’s provisions, according to the World Privacy Forum report. Vendors may have their own privacy policies in place which can mirror the HIPAA provisions.

Related News:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,