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Google Health Goes Live – Quick Analysis

by John Moore | May 19, 2008

Late this afternoon, Google Health Beta officially opened its doors for anyone to sign-up. While I did predict they would go live in the 2nd quarter, I was thinking end of the quarter, not the mid-point. Hat’s off to Google for moving so quickly.

As you know, I am at the TEPR conference trying to gather information and more importantly understand just why this conference is still in existence and more importantly, why it still attracts exhibitors as there is virtually no foot traffic, attendance is low and overall organization, well that is better left unsaid. Let’s just say that there is no WiFi and leave it at that.

But enough of TEPR, Google is the real story here (and far more interesting to tell). Following are some quick impressions and analysis.

What I really like:

Since I have a GMail account, sign-in to a Google Health Account was a breeze. Simply read the disclaimers (Terms of Service and Sharing Agreements), agree to them and you are on your way. – Loved It! And those disclaimers and privacy statement are similar to Microsoft HealthVault’s, forthright and easy to understand.

Out of the box connections with a number of data providers including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, a lot of medication related services (Walgreens, Medco, Longs Drug, and Rx America). Somewhat surprising that CVS/Caremark link is not about medications, but clinicals from Minute Clinic. Likewise, you don’t get clinicals from Walgreens’ retail clinics, only meds. Odd.

They also provide ability to link to Quest Diagnostics so one can get their lab results imported into their Google Health account.

Google Health also provides an ability to link to a number of third party services, including PHR providers Medem, MyMedicalRecords and NoMoreClipboard (each of these vendors as well as Google Health is profiled in our PHR Market Report, that will be available for purchase later this week – drop an email to: info @ chilmarkresearch.com if interested), advocacy groups such as the American Heart Assoc. and LIVESTRONG.COM, Cleveland Clinic’s second opinion service MyConsult and several other services. Some charge a fee for services while others are free, all stated clearly on the Google Health site (though no actual pricing for services is provided).

The real beauty of both features above is that Google provides clear linkages to partner sites. When you click on those links, from within your Google Health account, you are taken to a secure page (https) on the partner’s site where you are clearly asked to sign-in to begin the authentication process and have your records transfered to your Google Health account, or sign-up for a service.

Unlike the less than stellar launch of Microsoft HealthVault, where you clicked on a partner link only to be sent into God knows where, Google has worked closely with this initial set of partners to make it very clear where you have landed and what to do next. Bravo Google.

The interface is clean, crisp and intuitive. Nothing to clutter the eyes/mind as you navigate around the site. This is so unlike most major PHR providers today who seem compelled to barrage you with a visually noisy website experience.

Working with partner SafeMed, the site provides medication interaction checking for the consumer to assist them with managing multiple medications and minimizing adverse drug events. Google Health is supporting such standards as SNOMED CT & ICD-9 (both used for diagnosis/condition coding), LOINC (lab data), and NDC & RxNorm (both used for medications). Google is also supporting a slightly modified form of the CCR standard (which is quickly becoming the defacto standard for PHRs), that they call CCR/G.

What still needs work:

While they have partnered with a number of pharmacy companies and a couple of providers, that is far from capturing the broader market and really making life easier for the average consumer (i.e., a PHR that can self-populate and stay updated without a lot of consumer feeding). An obvious choice is data from health insurers (payers). Payers, arguably, have the largest trove of consumer health data, data that often includes lab results, medications and treatments. Granted, claims data is not as rich as clinical data, but there are very few practices today with as sophisticated digital clinical record keeping practices as Cleveland Clinic and Beth Israel. Google will have to get payers on board to make this work.

Retail clinics, who most often are already using CCR are an obvious link/partner for Google. CVS’s Minute Clinic is a good start, but where is Walgreens’ own clinics and will Google extend out to those corporate campus clinics that Walgreens just purchased? I really can’t criticize Google for this last point as Walgreens did just acquire these clinics, but would have like to have seen Google at least, in some fashion address the employer market for these solutions.

Missing any place to put advanced directives.

No capabilities yet to assist a consumer in managing their health savings account. Be a nice opportunity for Google and Intuit to partner.

Site would hang-up on me occasionally, but that may be more of a function of this terrible hotel Internet connection, than Google.

Was not all that impressed with the search engine for finding a doctor. When I entered my doctor’s last name and city, got back a number of hits but they were all peripheral – not a single one giving me contact details or for that matter even identifying my doctor. Wasted effort for me.

Lastly, an odd thing happened in testing the link to Quest Diagnostics. When I landed on the Quest site, it requested a PIN to sign-in to begin transfer process. Well, I don’t think I even have a PIN with Quest so I backed out of the site. Yet, later, noticed on the landing page of my Google Health, the Quest banner for finding a Quest location or scheduling an appointment. Really looked more like an advertisement to me as I certainly didn’t request the banner and now have to figure out how to remove it.

Bottom Line:

While I am sure I’ll find other small quibbles regarding Google Health, all in all, it is difficult to find anything really major to dislike about this offering. My biggest gripe would be that it is too thin, both from a tools /functionality provided perspective and partners from which to import data. These are very important issues but they are also issues that Google should be readily able to address in the future if the have the mind to do so.

And is that really, at the end of the day what matters most?

Will Google and Microsoft stick it out and stay in the healthcare market long enough to see the tide change and the apathetic consumer turn into a proactive and engaged healthcare consumer. This sector is fraught with challenges which I have written about before and it is going to take time to address them. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that these two companies have the patience to stick with it as I really do not see any other companies in the market that have the breadth of resources to make this happen.

The more I look at this market, the more I am convinced that needed change in the healthcare sector will come from the outside via greater direct engagement of the consumer in managing their health. And that will require giving the consumer the tools to do just that. Something which both Google and Microsoft are on track to provide.

Other Resources:

Google Health FAQ

Beth Israel’s CIO’s Impressions (Note: As he was part of Google’s Advisory team, you won’t find a critical, unbiased view).

7 responses to “Google Health Goes Live – Quick Analysis”

  1. […] Press, 19 May 2008 Google Health Records are Here…., The Medical Quack, 19 May 2008 Google Health Goes Worldwide – Quick Analysis, John Moore, Chilmark Research, 19 May 2008 Google Health admits that they MAY share your health […]

  2. geeb says:

    Lucid review. Re: Quest Diagnostics, my own attempt to access labs (which, contrary to the review, are not frequently or readily available from payers) was stymied thusly:

    Doctor who ordered your labs must issue you a PIN. How do they do that? According to QD helpstaff, they have to be ‘set up on QD’s system’. If they’re not – and they are not obliged to be – QD will not give you access to your labs.

    OK, sez I, and called my doctor. Sure enough, neither doc nor staff know anything about GOOG Health, or their ‘opportunity’ to issue me a QD PIN, and furthermore did not WANT to know. Note to self: time for a new doctor.

    So, back to QD with this question: “how do I find a doctor who IS set up to issue QD PINs?”

    You can probably guess the answer: ‘Gee, WE don’t keep a database of that info. You’ll have to call doctors to find out if they are set up to issue PINs’ So in other words, your doc has to be set up on QD’s system to ISSUE PINs, but they’re unable to wield that same system to let patients know about doctors who ARE set up to issue them.

    What’s the right lab test for a splitting headache?

    As is so often the case, it ain’t the technology, it’s the perverse human behavior all around it….

  3. John says:

    Quest is actually publishing a directory to the Google Health system that will help with this process.

    So yes that same system does actually tell patients which doctors have “opted in” to the program and want to be listed as enabling the result downloads.

    Physicians do need to “opt in” though so there is some lag between the time Google Health launched and when the physicians will show up in the doctor directory with a link for Quest that says “Download your lab results” next to the doctors listing.

  4. geeb says:

    John wrote: “Quest is actually publishing a directory to the Google Health system that will help with this process.”

    John that is great news! Do you happen to know what the rollout timetable is?

    Thanks,

  5. John Moore says:

    Thanks for the input on your experience with the Quest link. When I was down in FL attending TEPR last week, this subject came up as in FL, and most likely most other states, one has to go to their physician to get their lab results – Quest and others are not allowed to distributed results directly to the consumer!

    So, we as consumers will have to go to our doctor and strongly encourage them to “get set-up” on the QD system.

    Now the question is, how easy/readily will physicians do such to facilitate their customers access to the Quest labs? This could become a significant hurdle.

  6. geeb says:

    re: “Now the question is, how easy/readily will physicians do such to facilitate their customers access to the Quest labs? This could become a significant hurdle.”

    Would seem to me that QD is in the hottest seat. They KNOW which MDs are set up (my guess is not many, even among the technophilic practices), but they are not now sharing – and I imagine they aren’t highly inclined to noodge docs who are NOT running to hook up the QD PIN access by putting up a search utility to make distinguish “haves” from “have nots” easier for consumers.

    What will happen?

    Frankly, I am in need of a hobby, and the opportunity to monitor progress on this facet of health care info access sets me up nicely…. ; – )

  7. […] Since its initial launch too 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 […]

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