Google's Larry Page May Pull Back on Health Portal: WSJ

As part of a corporate streamlining, Google co-founder and incoming CEO Larry Page may reduce resources for Google's personal health portal, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Even as Microsoft grows stronger on the health care IT front, rumors are circulating that Google may devote less attention to its Google Health PHR (personal health record) portal, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

With co-founder Larry Page preparing to take over for Eric Schmidt as CEO on April 4, the WSJ article suggests Page may streamline some areas of the company and reduce resources for Google Health.

"One project expected to get less support is Google Health, which lets people store medical records and other health data on Google's servers, said people familiar with the matter," the WSJ article states.

Google did not respond to eWEEK's request for comment by press time but told Mary-Jo Foley of ZDNet, "We don't comment on rumor or speculation."

With Google Health, consumers can track vital medical data within their Google accounts and import information from doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. The service also tracks goals for fitness, weight and blood pressure-or even how much coffee you drink in a day.

In addition, the service allows users to keep track of medication schedules, monitor medical conditions and share the data with friends, family and physicians.

Although Google is not likely to drop the portal altogether, it may remain unchanged in its current form, according to analysts.

"I think they'll just put it into stasis and wait for the market to develop, because frankly there's not a lot of digital data out there yet, particularly clinical data-which makes it challenging for Google Health and for Microsoft HealthVault as well," John Moore, managing partner for Chilmark Research, told eWEEK.

"I don't think they will drop it like they did with Google Wave," Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, wrote in an email to eWEEK. (Shah blogged about the topic on March 26.)

"Google Health will just become a basic service without much support. Over time without strategic interest from a senior leader, it will basically become a tool for developers," Shah predicted.

"I think it would be a political and PR nightmare for them to kill Google Health. That's why I don't think they would say we're pulling the plug completely on it," Moore said.

Google Health or PHRs may not affect the market for EHRs (electronic health records), according to Shah.

"I do not believe the success or the failure of Google Health or any PHR will, in the long term, make any difference to the EHR landscape," Shah said. "I do not believe anyone will miss it enough that it will affect their health."

Weak standards and lack of consumer interest have hurt adoption of PHRs, according to Chilmark's Moore.

Schmidt introduced Google Health at the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) conference on Feb. 28, 2008. Since that time, Google has treated the site as a "sandbox" and invested more in its Android mobile platform, Moore said.

Microsoft's health care effort may be more organized overall than Google's, despite struggles by both companies in PHRs, experts say. Microsoft, unlike Google, has a chief health care strategist, Shah noted.

"HealthVault is in better shape since it has strategic support, and they are going after traditional enterprise customers," Shah said.

In early March, Microsoft moved the Health Solutions Group from the Advanced Strategies & Research division, led by Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, to the Business Solutions Group run by Kirill Tatarinov, the company's corporate vice president, Redmond reports. "The move signifies that the organization has evolved out of 'incubation,'" according to Microsoft.

"They needed to have more focus," Moore said. "There's so many different things that you can try to tackle in health care, and to a certain extent, it looked like Microsoft was trying to boil the ocean. It was really hard to understand what Microsoft is all about in health care."

HealthVault is focused more on the clinical data side, and Google Health incorporates more consumer wellness tools, Moore noted.

"HealthVault is targeted to consumers, but they've done more to build out the platform to accept different types of clinical data," he said.