Why Google Health failed: Too little, too soon
Widespread use of personal health record systems is still five years out
Computerworld - Google's online personal health record (PHR) service failed because of its relative obscurity and lack of capabilities, according to health care industry experts.
Google said late last week it would shutter Google Health on Jan. 1, 2012, since the PHR service has failed to gain widespread adoption.
While it offered people a way to store health information in a centralized online location, Google Health was mainly an aggregation service with little to offer mainstream consumers other than an online scrapbook of medical information. Google itself admitted that adoption was mainly among tech-savvy patients and fitness enthusiasts.
"We haven't found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people," Google said in its blog post about the service.
Google launched a beta of Google Health in mid-2008 as a rival to Microsoft's HealthVault personal health record service.
IDC Health Insights analyst Lynne Dunbrack said Google Health failed for a number of reasons, though the biggest was that people were unaware that it even existed because of ineffective marketing.
In a consumer survey earlier this year, only 7% of the respondents indicated they'd ever used a personal health record service -- and 50.6% said they'd never even been exposed to the idea of one.
"It's not something that a person wakes up in the morning and says, 'Hey, I need one of these things,'" said Dunbrack. "People would have to Google to find Google Health."
In contrast, with its deep reach into the corporate market, Microsoft was able to market its HealthVault PHR to other sponsors, such as Siemens and Canada's second largest telecom provider, Telus, allowing those companies to rebrand and resell the service to their customers.
"In the U.K., Microsoft went on a direct marketing approach to get the service closer to consumers," Dunbrack said.
In 2009, Google Health gained some traction when it partnered with CVS pharmacies and made it possible for the drugstore chain's customers to import their prescription histories into Google Health records. Google had similar agreements with SureScripts, National Pharmacy, Walgreens and Longs Drugs. While the pharmacy partnerships allowed Google Health to aggregate more data, the deals did little to address an even more crucial challenge: the need to partner with healthcare providers, according to Chilmark Research.
"Google Health needed to fully connect with the healthcare community, the doctors, the hospitals etc. -- the ones holding the data," Chilmark said in an online commentary. "Google also struggled to sign additional partners to create a richer ecosystem and was way behind Microsoft in importing biometric data."
Dunbrack said that IDC surveys show users of PHR systems want three primary capabilities: access to laboratory test results, the ability to communicate with physicians online and the ability to schedule appointments.
"Many PHRs have been nothing more than medical scrapbooks, and the biggest challenge for Google Health is they had a fairly limited number of data sources," she said.
IDC's survey indicated that of those who had used a PHR service, only 47.6% were still doing so. However, 28% indicated that they would use a PHR system if their physician recommended doing so. That, said Dunbrack, is the main difference between Google Health and other services such as Dossia and Microsoft's HealthVault.
Dossia is an employer-backed service created and offered by Fortune 500 companies such as Applied Materials, AT&T, BP America, Cardinal Health, Intel, Pitney Bowes, Wal-Mart and Vanguard Health Systems. Those companies offer the PHR service as part of their health insurance plans for a small fee, allowing employees to securely communicate their personal health information with care providers.
While Dossia allows secure sharing of personal health information between patients, physician practices and hospitals and offers patient alerts, it does not yet offer direct, secure communication services.
Last year, Microsoft's HealthVault launched Community Connect, which offered a limited use license of Microsoft SharePoint Server and Microsoft Amalga to create a physician and patient portal that aids the secure sharing of information between hospitals, physicians and patients. That means patients could send and receive encrypted emails and alerts with healthcare providers.
Personal health record systems are expected to take the same development trajectory as online banking, starting with simple access to data, such as bank account balances, followed by the ability to share information and make data transfers in real time. Widespread adoption of PHR systems isn't expected for another five years.
"If you look at online banking, now I can pay bills and move money around to various accounts. There are bill alerts that provide a link for a consumer to pay. I can act on the information," Dunbrack said. "If a PHR was more actionable, such as [offering] alerts to lab results or for medical screenings and appointments... then consumers would have a reason to use PHRs."
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
Health care and IT
- HIPAA rules, outdated tech cost U.S. hospitals $8.3B a year
- How big data will save your life
- WebMD, Qualcomm build consumer cloud for mobile health data
- Lack of healthcare IT workers slows tech progress
- U.S. doctors don't believe patients need full access to health records
- Bill Clinton calls for healthcare price transparency, embracing IT to cut costs
- Physicians may be marginalized as mobile tech engages us in healthcare
- IBM: Watson will eventually fit on a smartphone, diagnose illness
- Hospitals need to copy airline, bank, retail e-business models
- Health providers can't find, keep IT staff
Read more about Healthcare IT in Computerworld's Healthcare IT Topic Center.
- Google I/O 2013's Coolest Products and Services
- 10 Star Trek Technologies That are Almost Here
- 19 Generations of Computer Programmers
- 25 Must-Have Technologies for SMBs
- A walking tour: 33 questions to ask about your company's security
- 15 social media scams
- The 7 elements of a successful security awareness program
With the promise of big data (solving the unsolvable problems, informing better decision making, creating new products and services, discovering patterns and acting on them, etc.) on the horizon, what has really changed? Does this mean that everything we know and do with not-so-big data should be tossed?
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Case Study: Hospital Turns to Email Archiving Solution to Ensure Regulatory Compliances
- Read this case study to learn how a cloud-based email archiving solution enabled the hospital to meet government mandates and helps avoid thousands...
- Case Study: In-the-Cloud Email Service Replaces Three Point Products
- Read this case study for more information on a comprehensive in-the-cloud email service to help replace three point products.
- Case Study: Simplifying the Transition to Exchange 2010 with Email Management Solutions
- Read this case study to learn how a cloud-based email management solution greatly simplified the company's transition to Exchange 2010.
- Intelligent Systems: A Prescription for Health Care Transformation
- Facing an onslaught of regulatory changes and market pressures, health care providers are grappling with how to transform existing services as part of...
- The Importance of Network Time Synchronization
- Your network is time stamping files, email, transactions, etc., while your server logs are recording the transactions in case you need that information.... All Healthcare IT White Papers
- Becoming An Analytics Driven Organization
- Join us on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT and learn how your agency can create an analytics culture that will enable...
- 3 Reasons Why Sepaton is the World's Fastest Backup Solution
- Leading analyst, Storage Switzerland learns how Sepaton backs up and deduplicates massive data volumes while maintaining the industry's fastest performance - all in...
- Enterprise File Sharing: All You Need to Know
- Security. Scalability. Control. These are just some of the many benefits of enterprise cloud file-sharing that you'll discover in this KnowledgeVault, packed with...
- Bridging HTTP and FTP with FileXpress Internet Server
- What if you could take an FTP server on your internal network, and allow external users (partners or customers) to securely access it...
- MFT and FileXpress - An Overview
- Business users and applications exchange files on a regular basis. File transfer is a core part of the flow of business activity. All Healthcare IT Webcasts