Personal Health Records to Thrive Despite the Demise of Google Health: Report

Research firm Frost & Sullivan reports that even with Google Health leaving the market, personal health records could succeed when embedded in physician-managed EHRs.

Despite the exit of Google from the personal health record market, the consumer version of electronic health records may have a future as part of an overall health care IT strategy, according to a report by research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Increasing use of EHRs (electronic health records) by providers and payers along with continued development of mobile health tools could lead to growth in PHRs, the research suggests.

PHRs have a chance at success if they're embedded as a component of physician-managed EHRs in which the data will be fed from the EHR into the PHR, according to Jessica Ryan Ohlin, a Frost & Sullivan analyst.

"It's only the very neurotic or chronically diseased people who are going to be spending the 50 hours entering their information," Ohlin told eWEEK.

EHRs used by hospitals, community health centers and community doctors will drive PHR use, according to Ohlin.

"People have not figured out how to monetize the thing yet, but it is going to happen," Ohlin said. "It's probably not going to be the type of profits or revenue opportunities that people thought of, and where the revenue opportunities will accrue is not going to be in the pure consumer marketing area."

Companies will make money on PHRs only if it's part of a total health care IT strategy.

"You can't just have one piece of the pie; you have to have an investment across the whole health IT spectrum to be able to accrue money from the patient or customer relationship part of it," Ohlin explained. "And that is what a company like Microsoft does with its Amalga enterprise solution and the HealthVault consumer solution."

Consumers won't be required to pay for PHRs, according to Ohlin. "It's going to be offered as part of a total package that gets paid for by providers or insurance companies or payers like the government, Medicare and Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, that kind of thing."

PHRs could evolve to be as ordinary a tool as online banking, she predicted. PHR providers include Epic and Kaiser Permanente.

Epic's Lucy PHR portal allows consumers to pull in medical data from a physician's EHR platform through the company's MyChart application.

As for Google, health care IT was not a focus for them, Ohlin noted.

The search giant announced on June 24 that it would shut down its Google Health PHR portal on Jan. 1, 2012. Customers have until Jan. 1, 2013, to access data.

"Google Health was never a committed player in this space," she said. "The human and financial capital that it requires to get into health IT is much higher than many brilliant great minds and great brands have envisaged."

Google also lacked a relationship with laboratories, Ohlin said. "One reason people want to get into their health records is to check their lab results," she noted.

Experts say weak consumer interest was a factor in Google Health being shut down.

Frost & Sullivan released the report "U.S. Personal Health Records Market: Understanding Technical and Strategic Imperatives around Consumer-Focused Health IT" on June 29.

PHR software generated revenue of $312.2 million in 2010, and Frost & Sullivan predicts the number will hit $414.8 million in 2015.

Still, in 2010, only about 7 percent of the U.S. population used PHRs, mostly for monitoring a chronic condition.