Google has previewed a prototype of Google Health, a consumer-oriented health service dedicated to helping people track their health information online. (See Google Blogoscoped for screenshots, and useful descriptions of the service.)

This is a big deal.

Online health is emerging to become one of the internet’s major industries, and health-related start-ups are popping up and getting funded left and right. It was probably only a matter of time before Google and Microsoft woke up and started pushing their weight around. At VentureBeat LifeSciences, David Hamilton looks at the rivalry between Google and Microsoft, and how the biggest opportunity is in letting people manage their health records online. [Update: David has more here, writing after the Google Health previews were released.]

While health information now pervades the internet, the internet has yet to pervade the practice of health care. Medical records are strewn across thick folders or proprietary systems in doctors’ offices. The use, storage and deployment of medical information is clearly running on outdated systems, and Microsoft and Google would love to provide change this.

Google recently previewed Google Health, a service that aims to enable people to control their medical information and give access to anyone they choose. Something like this fits perfectly with Google’s strategy of “organizing the world’s information and making it accessible to everyone.” Of course, this “everyone” can include insurance companies and the Department of Homeland Security, who would love to have an easily navigable database of the populations’ health records, which might not be something people want.

They’ll probably have to get over it. The NYT’s Steve Lohr notes in his article on this subject, that “health care is a field where policy, regulation, and entrenched interests tend to slow the pace of change.” This is certainly true. Lohr also points out that “technology companies have a history of losing patience,” but we’d be willing to bet our houses that the big players are in it for the long haul: By 2015, health care spending is expected to reach $4 trillion, or 20 percent of the U.S.’ GDP, or a twofold increase from 2005. Any company with the resources to do so will happily stick around to get a piece of that.

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