SafeMed's application sifts through vast medical databases and personal health records in the blink of an eye to detect potentially harmful drug interactions and recommend treatments for specific conditions.The software has been embedded in Google Health, an online system being tried out by patients and doctors affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. If all goes well during the pilot phase, the free program could be opened to the public in a few months.
Since unveiling plans for Google Health in the fall, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has moved quickly to combine the power of its Internet search engine with personalized Web pages that store medical information.
Hundreds of other personal health record systems already exist, and the number is growing despite concerns by some privacy groups about online security and whether personal medical information will be sold for marketing purposes.
Many of the services can download data from medical devices, receive test results from laboratories and accurately share such information with hospitals and doctors' offices.
But Google's effort promises to be the largest yet.
SafeMed's role in Google Health could provide a boost to the privately held company, which has fewer than 50 employees and moved into its new office at the beginning of the year.
"Anytime a small company like SafeMed gets the endorsement of a name brand, it's a huge stamp of approval," said Richard Noffsinger, the company's chief executive.
Google has a long history of relying on smaller businesses to provide add-on features for its Internet services, said Sonal Gandhi, a small-business analyst with market research firm Jupiter Research.
"One of the advantages of working with Google is that it gives you an entry into a larger marketplace," Gandhi said. "Being their vendor gives you legitimacy."
SafeMed and Google officials didn't disclose the financial terms of Google's licensing agreement for the software.
SafeMed was started in 2000 by Dr. Ahmed Ghouri and a group of other physicians who initially raised $5 million for the venture. Hicks Holdings, a private investment group in Dallas, acquired 40 percent of the company last June for an undisclosed sum.
SafeMed executives declined to discuss the company's financial performance.
Ghouri is an anesthesiologist who in 1998 combined his interest in cars and the Internet to create Autofusion, which provides search-engine services for online car sales.
Around the same time, mounting evidence suggested that many of the mistakes made in medicine could be avoided if doctors and hospitals paid more attention to their work.
Ghouri said he was disturbed by such errors and thought a computer system capable of culling huge amounts of medical information and providing instant recommendations could help. He started working on the project and soon teamed with Raghu Sugavanam, an entrepreneur with a background in building computer systems able to search databases instantaneously for such companies as AT&T.
In some ways, SafeMed's system works like popular travel Web sites - think Expedia.com and Orbitz.com - that use airline schedules to generate personalized lists of trip itineraries. But the medical application taps a much wider variety of information, such as scientific research papers, guidelines published by medical societies and insurance reimbursement schedules. It also operates in a higher-stakes atmosphere where a single error could have life-or-death consequences.
"We created a supercomputer for patient care," Ghouri said.
SafeMed tackled one of the toughest challenges facing the medical technology sector, said Matthew Holt, a health care consultant in San Francisco who writes for The Healthcare Blog. "People are struggling with a mountain of information out there, and they need to know what is pertinent to me," he said. "That's a pretty big leap."
SafeMed's first interaction with Google came in February 2006 in San Diego at the annual Health Information and Management Systems Society conference, one of the largest gatherings of major health care technology players.
Ghouri and Sugavanam were staffing a booth for their company when several Google executives, including Google Health product manager Roni Zeiger, stopped by for a demonstration.
"They were very excited with what they saw, and they inquired if we could give the same power to consumers," Ghouri said.
For now, SafeMed is enjoying the benefit of being an exclusive product supplier to Google Health. That could change when Google opens its system to other software makers.
Alternately, Google executives could move to acquire SafeMed if they decide that its application is critical to Google Health, said Holt, the health care consultant and blogger. "It's absolutely not out of the question. (Google) has bought hundreds of companies," he said.
SafeMed isn't looking for buyout offers, said Noffsinger, the company's CEO. "We are very excited about our prospects and opportunities going forward with Google and other strategic business partners," he said.