By David Schneider, Editorial Assistant
Realizing that personal health records are difficult to sell, Microsoft and Google Inc. spent 2010 reevaluating their business models for PHR services. The two tech titans have had mixed success, and the coming years may bring further struggle.
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The problem has not been with individuals, but with the health care industry itself. As SearchHealthIT.com mentioned back in June: “[P]ersonal health records remain a nascent concept in the health care world, with consumers slowly catching on to their use. A recent survey by the California HealthCare Foundation shows PHR services are not widely adopted — but patients who have used them trust their doctors more and pay closer attention to their own.”
Ultimately, the idea behind PHR services is sound, and they do benefit the people using them. However, neither Microsoft nor Google has succeeded in tapping this market.
In mid-September, Google Health shifted its focus from information-gathering to patient wellness via a system for end users. After a redesign, Google Health provides charts and graphs with which users can track medical data and fitness goals, and a diary where they can record reactions to medications or the results of a workout. Lost in the redesign, however, is the potential for Google Health to connect seamlessly to the electronic health record (EHR) systems used by hospitals and other health care providers.
Microsoft, meanwhile, recently said there was little to no profit to be made from HealthVault in the U.S. — though, to be fair, Microsoft has been saying this all along and sees more value in HealthVault as a free, open platform than as a profitable venture. Instead has turned its attention to its Amalga line of analytics and reporting tools as revenue-producing line of health care software. Amalga, though, isn’t faring so well either — Microsoft had to pull the plug on the Amalga Hospital Information System due to its small Asia-Pacific customer base and the realization that it was too broad a system .
These companies have learned the hard way that the health IT software market is a tough nut to crack. Hundreds of vendors sell EHR systems, and many hospitals have invested so many millions of dollars that they view the sudden incorporation of PHR services, even free ones, as a major disruption to physicians and patients. For either Microsoft or Google to make headway, that attitude will have to change.