Google Health Web Innovation Killed by Weak Consumer Interest

With Google pulling the plug on its personal-health-record portal, Google Health, experts say a lack of consumer interest and trust were to blame.

As Google prepares to shut down Google Health, its personal-health-record portal, experts cite consumers' weak interest in entering their own health data and a lack of faith in the services' privacy as factors leading to the portal's demise.

PHRs are health-record databases that consumers manage on their own, in contrast to EHRs (electronic health records), which hospitals and physicians maintain.

The fall of both Google Health and the Google Power Meter for home-energy devices was announced June 24 in a blog post by Aaron Brown, senior product manager for Google Health, and Bill Weihl, Google's green-energy czar. Google Health will shut down Jan. 1, 2012, but customers can continue to access data until Jan. 1, 2013.

Google Health was first unveiled in a speech by then-CEO Eric Schmidt at the 2008 HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) health care IT conference.

A lack of health-data sources may have been a detriment for Google Health, compared with Microsoft's HealthVault portal, according to Lynne Dunbrack, program director of connected health IT strategies at IDC Health Insights.

"I think what we saw with Google Health and the challenges of personal-health records, particularly personal-health records platforms like this, is you really need to have connectivity to a number of data sources," Dunbrack told eWEEK.

HealthVault is better positioned by integrating Microsoft Amalga and SharePoint Server to create physician and patient portals and offering connectivity to more than 190 health tools, she said.

Although Google Health did not have national payers, it did provide connectivity to data from two major providers-Cleveland Clinic and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston-Dunbrack noted.

Many consumers also have a lack of awareness of personal-health records, Dunbrack said. "Consumers don't wake up thinking about PHRs," she said. "An event-triggered decision" like monitoring a chronic condition or a physician's recommendation might be more a motivating factor, she said.

As Google shutters Google Health, competitors will step in and provide a way for Google customers to transfer their data to another service. Another portal, MyMediConnect, plans to offer free online PHR accounts to Google Health customers. MyMediConnect is a PHR service that allows access to 6 million digitized records.

Microsoft HealthVault might win some of the departing Google Health customers as well.

In his blog post "Yes, Thanks-We've Heard About Google Health," Sean Nolan, chief architect for Microsoft's Health Solutions group, didn't think that Google Health's demise would negatively affect HealthVault, which recently opened its platform to mobile developers.

As for reasons for Google Health's demise, despite a clean interface, consumers had difficulty importing data into the service, according to John Moore, managing partner for Chilmark Research.

"But there were also a few problems, the biggest one being that Google only supported a bastardized version (they modified it) of the Continuity of Care Record (CCR) standard thereby limiting what a consumer could actually import into their Google Health account," Moore wrote in a blog post.

A problem for Google Health and competitors was a lack of trust in privacy and security, Moore explained.

"There is still a significant portion of the populace that is reluctant to trust Google, Microsoft or just about anyone else up there in the Internet Cloud with such personal information as their health records," Moore wrote.

The launch of Google Health has been considered groundbreaking as far as a place for consumers to track their health and keep their records.

"Google Health is truly innovative and broke new ground when it created interfaces to hospitals, labs and pharmacies in 2008," Dr. John D. Halamka, chief information officer at Harvard Medical School, wrote in a blog post. "I was there at the beginning and can definitively state that it was Google's reputation and vision that broke down the political barriers keeping data from patients."

As mobile phones and new Bluetooth 4.0 devices lead to additional electronic health monitoring, consumer personal-health records may have a future. Still, PHR vendors have work to do to convince the public of a reason to use them.

Patients may be more interested in messaging portals and communicating with physicians than compiling records themselves, according to Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications.

"What we've learned is that people aren't that interested in managing their health care records; they are more interested in engaging and communicating with their health professionals," Shah wrote in his Healthcare IT Guy blog.

"By and large, consumers don't want to have to do their own data entry," agreed Dunbrack.

Some EHR, or clinician-managed health-record, platforms feature messaging add-ons that doctors use to communicate with patients.

"Patient portals are usually supplementary software functions/features/packages that are added on top of an EHR to allow patients to access records stored in an EHR," Shah wrote in an email to eWEEK.