I came across a new patent application from Google this morning which appears to discuss how Google Health, an unlaunched service from Google, might be financed.
The patent filing is: Method and apparatus for serving advertisements in an electronic medical record system
The document lists Eric Sachs as inventor, who started the project in 2006. Here’s the abstract:
One embodiment of the present invention provides a system that serves advertisements within an electronic medical record (EMR) system.
During operation, the system receives a request from a medical practitioner to access a patient-record from the EMR system.
Next, the system looks up the patient-record in the EMR system and obtains one or more advertisements based information associated with the patient-record.
The system then displays the one or more advertisements along with the patient-record to the medical practitioner.
Google Blogoscoped published some screenshots of what might be images from Google Health, in August.
Who might the advertisers in such a system be? The patent filing tells us:
The obvious advertisers are pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers. However, there are many other potential advertisers, and the efficient targeting mechanism provided by the present invention should enable the creation of a “long tail” of such medical providers.
For example, potential advertisers can include:
1. medical seminar providers;
2. medical journal publishers;
3. published papers that have a free abstract and then require payment to view;
4. insurance companies; and
5. medical consultants/specialists.
I don’t know if the Google Health program will be part of the future of health care, but there are some sections in the patent filing that are interesting, such as how medical insurance advertisers may influence the actions of Physicians with the ads that they show:
Insurance companies can potentially become a huge source of revenue because they could use these targeting methods to let doctors know about their preferences for treating a patient, such as reminding them to prescribe a particular drug instead of immediately scheduling the patient for a surgery.
Moreover, the growing use of medical consultants/specialists can potentially improve the quality of medical care by fostering specialization, which is generally acknowledged to be one of the best ways to optimize quality.
Unfortunately, in today’s market it is difficult for medical specialists (whether they be individuals or medical groups) to market their services, so there are not as many of them as there could be.
Keep in mind that this is just a patent application, and the actual implementation and details of the program that Google might launch could be very different from what is described within this document.
Having said that, this statement is what is included in a section titled “Privacy Concerns” in the document:
Beyond the technical challenges, there are privacy concerns about the above-described advertising service. However, it should be possible for patients to request that this “feature” be disabled for their EMR system or their PHR system. However, insurance companies may raise premiums for patients who disable this feature.
Potentially higher insurance rates based upon whether or not you allow your physician to see advertisements based upon your health records? I’m not sure that I like that too much.