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RIP Google Health

by John Moore | June 24, 2011

Chilmark Research has not had a very good feeling about Google Health for well over a year now. Back in early May of this year we felt that Google had all but given up and had put Google Health in stasis. Today, Google made it official, Google Health has a little more than six months to live, then it will get the Kevorkian treatment with Larry Page administering the final lethal dose.

First yellow flag
Going back to the hey days of mid 2007, Google seemed to be chugging along quite nicely with its plans to enter the consumer health market. They had Adam Bosworth leading the team, excitement filled the air and then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bosworth up and quits. Google stumbled along under Marissa Mayer, but it just didn’t seem to have the same level of excitement. Microsoft, who was busy with their own consumer health play, HealthVault, seemingly wanted to jump the gun and have the limelight shine on them releasing HealthVault in October 2007. A premature launch as HealthVault was far from being ready for prime time – it was painful.

Yellow flag number two
Google went along at a methodic pace and finally unveiled Google Health at HIMSS’08 during Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s keynote presentation. (Google threw a great party that year at HIMSS, one of the better ones.) It was a limited beta release with Cleveland Clinic wherein they had hoped for 10,000 users, but far fewer actually signed on.

Three yellow flags and counting
Google Health was formally released to the public in May 2008. It was an elegant solution, very Google-like, obviously, with easy navigation, uncluttered screen, simple to understand, simple to use. Like their competitors to the north, Google had signed on a number of partners to create a health ecosystem of services/apps that a consumer could leverage to assist in managing their health and wellness. 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. So despite having a blue ribbon advisory board, Google Health seemed to not want to fully connect to the healthcare community, the doctors, the hospitals, etc. – the ones holding the data! Google also struggled to sign-on additional partners to create a richer ecosystem and were way behind Microsoft in importing biometric data..

A bouquet of yellow flags
And as one observed Google Health in the ensuing years, one got the sense, that is if you were observant, that the Google Health team of engineers was very small and the leadership at the top of Google Health was a revolving door. Without consistent leadership, without a sufficiently large team and without the business development folks to strike partnerships, Google began struggling for legitimacy in less then a year. And now, by January 1, 2012, Google Health will go into the dustbin of the consumer health movement joining the likes of Revolution Health (at least Google didn’t waste as much money as Steve Case did) and a host of others.

Lessons Learned and Implications:

Healthcare is a tough market in and of itself and the consumer health market is even tougher. There is a paucity of consumer health information in structured, machine computable format. Maybe in a few years once we get doctors comfortable using EHRs and readily sharing records with their patients that may change, but that is still a few years out.

Few consumers are interested in a digital filing cabinet for their records. What they are interested in is what that data can do for them. Can it help them better manage their health and/or the health of a loved one? Will it help them make appointments? Will it saved them money on their health insurance bill, their next doctor visit? Can it help them automatically get a prescription refill? These are the basics that the vast majority of consumers want addressed first and Google Health was unable to deliver on any of these.

Without a worthy competitor, will Microsoft no longer feel the need to further invest in enhancements and features for HealthVault? Will Microsoft reassign those engineers elsewhere and basically put HealthVault in its own form of stasis? It’s not like HealthVault has been a screaming success in the market and Microsoft has some major work to do on Amalga to improve its own track-record there. Also, since Microsoft is no longer under the protective wing of R&D and now in Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), thus it now has clear sales targets to reach and a more restrictive P&L. Don’t be too surprised if HealthVault goes into its own quiet period for the next 18-24 months. The only thing that may change our opinion is Microsoft’s success overseas with HealthVault.

Engaging the consumer/patient most often begins at the doctor’s office. If you do not get the physician(s) involved, actively promoting the patient to use such tools as Google Health and likewise do the hard work of creating value for the physician it may be nearly impossible to gain real traction. WebMD takes a slightly different approach, getting employers to actively promote (most often through incentives) to employees to use WebMD. But again, it takes someone advocating on your behalf. Google thought that if they built it, consumers would come on their own to Google Health. Sorry Google that was a gross mis-calculation, one may even call it arrogant.

Who ya’ gonna trust. 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. The reality of privacy and security of health records is far more nuanced and a consumer’s records may actually be safer in Google Health or HealthVault but that is another conversation. Bottom-line, consumers remain quite wary of putting their records into these types of services which hinders adoption.

Though we saw it coming, it is still a sad day to see the passing of Google Health. May she Rest in Peace.

Addendum:
Sean Nolan, Chief Architect at MSFT has some words of his own on the demise of Google Health as well as clear instructions on how to export your Google Health data to HealthVault. Worth the read.

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