An ailing Google Health will finally be put to sleep. Google Inc. announced Friday that its personal health record (PHR) service will be retired on Jan. 1, 2012, with data available for download for one year thereafter. The announcement ends more than a year of rumors, most recently reported by the Wall Street Journal and the Gerson Lehrman Group consultancy, that the service would be shut down.
In a post on the Official Google Blog, Aaron Brown, senior product manager for Google Health, said the product has not achieved the “broad impact” for which the search engine giant had hoped. Though “tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts” have been using Google Health, particularly after a September 2010 redesign that focused on patient wellness, the company could not “translate that limited usage into widespread adoption,” Brown said.
Several industry experts have pointed to other factors contributing to Google Health’s demise.
- John Moore of Chilmark Research listed a bunch of reasons, chief among them the inability of Google to connect with physicians. If physicians aren’t engaged, Moore said, patients won’t be either.
- Adam Bosworth, who created Google Health in 2007, only to leave the company before it was released, told TechCrunch that Google Health failed because it wasn’t social.
- For Dave Chase, who created Microsoft’s PHR service, known as HealthVault, it’s a bigger issue. Simply put, PHR services can’t succeed without health care reform, which de-emphasizes the fee-for-service reimbursement in lieu of the accountable care organization (ACO) and the patient-centered medical home, both of which require significant patient-physician interaction. (Chase also likens the ACO model to a unicorn — a fantasy that many can describe but no one has actually seen. But that’s another blog for another day.)
- Jon Mertz of Corepoint Health, an interoperability and workflow management software vendor, reckoned that Google Health was before its time. With better health IT infrastructure, physician adoption of electronic health record (EHR) technology and, admittedly, patient demand, Google Health may have stood a chance.
- Keith Boone, standards and interoperability architect for GE Healthcare, pointed to arguably the simplest explanation of all. Boone informally polled friends and family. No one had heard of Google Health or, critically, could, when told what it did, figure out why it was useful.
Taken together, this commentary suggests that Google Health suffered from the lethal combination of a poor business model and, at best, tepid support from the executive suite.
It should be pointed out that Google isn’t the only tech giant to find that the market for personal health records is a tough one to crack. After all, Microsoft admitted in November 2010 that HealthVault isn’t making any money.
However, Microsoft Chief Architect Sean Nolan said HealthVault is alive and kicking, thanks in part to its recent deployment on Windows Mobile 7, its collaboration with My HealtheVet, the PHR service for veterans and its support for image storage via the HealthVault Connection Center. Plus, as All About Microsoft reported in late March, HealthVault, as well as Amalga, have been shifted from the company’s nascent Health Solutions Group into the more formal, and prominent, Microsoft Business Solutions group.
All is not necessarily lost for Google Health users. As noted, they have one year to retrieve data from their accounts. Personal health data can be exported in six formats — PDF, HTML, XML, CSV, a ZIP archive and a Continuity of Care Record, which will allow users to import data into other PHR services. (Google Health Help has explained how data can be transferred into Microsoft HealthVault. As Nolan put it, “the Google team has been working with us to ensure that migration is as simple and painless as possible.”)
In addition, within the next few weeks, Google Health users will be able to transfer their data to another service that supports the Direct Project standard.
With the loss of Google Health, free consumer PHR options now include HealthVault, WebMD Health Manager, myMediConnect and NoMoreClipboard.com. Fee-based consumer offerings are available. Overall, though, PHR adoption remains in single digits among American adults — and it may stay that way for quite some time.
A large part of the reason, Moore said, is because patients are less interested in data repositories and more interested in applications that actually use that data to, say, plan weight loss goals or measure hypertension. When PHR services can make that leap, patients are more likely to see their benefits and make the great leap forward.