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Google launches foray into patient health information

BY Jim Frederick

ORLANDO, Fla. —Wielding its titanic scale as the Internet’s leading worldwide information conduit and Web portal, Google Inc. is linking up with such big pharmacy chains as Walgreens and Wal-Mart, as well as other healthcare providers, in a groundbreaking venture into the world of patient records and health information technology. The result could significantly accelerate the nationwide evolution of data-driven health care and shift more decision-making power into the hands of information-empowered patients.

In late February, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt announced the launch of Google Health, the company’s much-discussed foray into the field of personal health information and patient-controlled data exchange. Schmidt said the new venture would provide a password-protected, Web-based platform through which patients, doctors, pharmacists and medical labs could share personal health information.

Walgreens makes entry into nation’s Capitol

Walgreens officials hosted the grand opening of the company’s first drug store in Washington, D.C., March 6. “With the opening of this new 24-hour store, Walgreens now serves residents of every major metropolitan area in the country,” Walgreens noted in a statement. The company revealed plans to open more than a dozen locations in the Washington area within the next few years, along with more than 40 more stores across Virginia and Maryland. Kermit Crawford, senior vice president of pharmacy services, hosted a ribbon-cutting that drew Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, National Association of Chain Drug Store president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson and Walgreens national director of pharmacy affairs Phil Burgess.

The result could be a truly portable system of patient records—a system that Google says would give patients direct access to their own health information, and provide physicians, pharmacies and other healthcare providers a holistic window into a patient’s entire medical history. Privacy concerns aside, such a network could help prevent many prescribing errors, duplicate prescriptions or medical tests, as well as confusion over a patient’s therapy among multiple healthcare providers. Armed with new information, patients also could gain more direct control over the factors that impact their health and well-being.

Schmidt said Google is partnering with Walgreens, Wal-Mart, health insurers, hospitals and Quest Diagnostics, among other companies, to create a password-protected online storage and retrieval system for patient health records—including lab results, prescription records and drug history, physicians’ input and other data. Last month, the company unveiled the first plank of the new venture—a data-sharing alliance with The Cleveland Clinic.

Google’s chief executive is insisting the new service will safeguard patients’ health records and put control in the hands of patients themselves. Nevertheless, some privacy advocates have expressed concerns over the potential damage that could arise if the password-protected system is cracked.

Many of the companies allied with Google have yet to reveal their own plans for the system. However, Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin freely described the system’s potential benefit.

“I think this is another step toward engaging the patients and making it easier for them to take control of their health care,” Polzin told Drug Store News. “That’s where health care is heading. Part of controlling the costs in health care is providing patients with access to information.”

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MinuteClinic moves forward with Massachusetts plans

BY Antoinette Alexander

MINNEAPOLIS MinuteClinic, a clinic operator owned by CVS Caremark, has applied for its first 10 clinic sites in Massachusetts and expects the opening dates to be in late summer to early fall.

As previously reported by Drug Store News, in January, state health officials approved regulations allowing for limited service medical clinics, marking the end of a long review process that included two public hearings and the submission of hundreds of pages of testimony regarding the regulations.

MinuteClinic stated that it is working with the Massachusetts Department of Health and “is confident that the sites meet the regulatory requirements and will receive approval to move forward.”

The new in-store clinics are planned for CVS stores in Ashland, Beverly, Bridgewater, Danvers, Medford, Medway, Stoughton, Taunton, Tewkesbury and Westford.

The sites are the first of a total of 25 to 30 the company expects to open in Massachusetts by the end of 2008.

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Hallmark exits online flower and gift business

BY Doug Desjardins

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Hallmark is exiting the online gift and flower business, citing a less-than-acceptable return on investment. The move will result in the loss of about 100 jobs at its corporate headquarters and distribution center in Memphis, Tenn., though Hallmark said it would try to find new jobs in the company for those workers.

Hallmark started its online flower business in 2001 and its online and catalog gift and decor business in 2005. The decision will not affect its online business for greeting cards and stationery. A company spokeswoman said Hallmark decided to shutter the flower and gift divisions after determining they “couldn’t guarantee the results we needed.”

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