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Google’s Irrelevancy Leading to Demise?

by John Moore | May 28, 2010

Since its initial launch to much fanfare, Google Health has struggled to be relevant.  Since its formal launch in May 2008, Google Health has not dedicated the resources to build out this platform into a truly engaging ecosystem of applications to assist the consumer in managing their health or the health of a loved one.  Rather than build out new features, support a broadening array of standards, focus on the necessary business development that is required to establish partnerships, Google has taken a laissez-faire attitude to this product/service never dedicating more than a handful of engineers to the effort and most often flexing in outside vendors, such as IBM who built the module to bring in biometric from Continua compliant devices.

Rumors are now floating about that this lack of relevancy, this lack of a true commitment to Google Health has led to that oh so fateful executive decision – pulling the plug on Google Health and either letting the team go or reassigning them to other divisions within the organization.  With maybe 25 employees max at any one time working on Google Health, this will not have major implications internally, but it may have some broad repercussions in the industry that include:

Without a viable competitor, will HealthVault languish in its efforts to provide a truly clean, easy to engage and use platform?
Google Health’s interface and ease of interaction has always been one of its key features. Unlike Microsoft’s HealthVault, which initially was a beast to try and use, Google Health from the start was simple, intuitive and dare one say it, almost fun to use.  Though HealthVault has come a long way in improving the user experience, it remains a more trying experience. With Google Health put on the proverbial shelf, will HealthVault no longer be pushed as hard to continuously improve the user experience.

Perception that Personal Health Platform (PHP) market is dead.
Markets do not exist if there are no competitors. If the rumors are true, what we have left are Dossia, the private, employer-based platform and HealthVault.  These two alone do not constitute a market, therefore, can we now boldly state that there is no market for consumer-based PHPs?  Market would seem to say yes, though Chilmark has a hard-time admitting as much as we have been strong proponents of the PHP concept.  It may simply be that this market is still extremely immature as the consumer is not well-educated in the value in managing their own personal health information (PHI), nor is such information in easy to access and use digital form factors.  History is littered with great inventions by great inventors who ended up in the poor-house simply because the timing was off, This may indeed be the case for PHP.

Lack of options for small, consumer-focused independent software vendors (ISVs).
Dossia takes a very cautious approach to adding ISVs to its ecosystem, basically choosing those that their employer members wish to have available for their employees.  Microsoft has been quite aggressive in adding an increasingly wide array of ISV partners to create a fairly rich ecosystem.  Problem is, some ISVs are reluctant to work with Microsoft for whatever reason.  Without Google as an option, they are left with few options.

Could stall innovation.
Similar to the first point wherein Google Health’s attractive and easy to engage interface was a welcome relief to our experiences with HealthVault which subsequently put the pressure on Microsoft to improve the user experience, without Google pushing the innovation envelop in directions that Microsoft or to a lesser extent Dossia may not have pushed, we are now left with the very real possibility of not seeing truly new, innovative models for how consumers can gain access to, use and leverage their PHI to improve their health as well as their interactions with the healthcare system.  This may ultimately prove to be the biggest repercussion in this nascent market of consumer health IT.

It is critical to state that though, if rumors prove true – Google has disbanded its Google Health team, that does not mean Google Health is dead.  What it does mean is that Google Health has been put into stasis, that we will not see any new innovations, we will not see an expansion of its support of standards beyond the bastardized version of CCR that Google Health currently uses and the number of new partners, be it those providing data (payers, providers, etc.) or using it (ISVs), joining the Google Health ecosystem will trend to zero.  Sure, one can still store their PHI on Google Health and one will be able to able to use one of the existing ISVs, just don’t expect much more than what we have today going forward.

So without Google Health to keep the boys and girls in Redmond on their toes, might we continue to use the metaphor in Microsoft’s efforts to package the iPod as the metaphor for the user experience at HealthVault.  We sure hope not and many of the most senior executives at Microsoft have assured us that this will not be the case. In fact, to their credit, it was one of these executives that first guided us to the Microsoft exercise in repackaging the iPod video, so we remain optimistically hopeful.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9HfdSp2E2A&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Stay up to the minute.

“As biometric data becomes cheaper and easier to collect through smart sensors, devices, and mobile apps, expect to see more innovations in consumer health.”

-Alicia Vergaras