Google Health is an electronic health record system that terminates on January 1, 2012.
It is notable that Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), on January 1, 2012, will shut down Google Health, its patient health record (PHR) platform. That announcement was made in June, so many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers may not realize that Google is exiting the PHR market.
On Google’s official blog, company officials stated their intention was “to retire two products that didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped, but did serve as influential models.”. Along with Google Health, the other product about to be discontinued is Google PowerMeter, a free energy monitoring platform, designed to help consumers cut energy usage and costs. Users can continue to download data stored on Google Health through January 1, 2013.
Growth in Users of Google Health Did Not Meet Company’s Expectations
The decision to discontinue its Google Health comes barely three years after the company launched the service. It hoped that Google Health would help healthcare consumers to make smarter choices. In May of last year Dark Daily reported that the number of Americans using PHRs doubled between 2008 and the end of 2009. News coverage of the Google Health story confirms that PHR use has increased within a narrow market segment of tech-savvy patients and providers, as well as with the growing numbers of consumers interested in fitness and wellness. But the number of Google Health users fell far short of the millions of PHR users that Google projected would sign up and use the service.
Meanwhile, HealthVault, the PHR offered by rival Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) will pick up the slack created by the shut down of Google Health. The two tech giants are cooperating to facilitate the transfer of data from Google Health to Microsoft’s HealthVault. Microsoft’s Peter Neupert, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Health Solutions Group, praised Google’s contribution as he acknowledged the monumental challenge of developing a universal electronic health care platform across a huge health ecosystem.
Microsoft is banking on the combination of its Amalga, a data aggregation platform for hospitals and health systems, and Health Vault, its PHR platform. “We continue to be focused on driving change in health and health care around the world through data liberation,” Neupert stated, reaffirming that Microsoft’s commitment to the PHR concept “is not peripheral to Microsoft’s health IT business—it’s core to our strategy and to what we believe is required to truly make a difference in health and health care.”
Lack of consumer engagement is the acknowledged problem threatening viability of the PHR concept. Dave Chase, CEO of health technology company Avado.com and founder of Microsoft’s Health business, sees deeper causes. First, Chase sees problems with the basic business model. He believes that platform companies should focus on provider adoption first, rather than on consumers.
“Google is a great consumer company but [they] have had limited success in specific vertical markets selling to organizations,” Chase stated. “As much as there’s a massive consumer-empowerment movement, in order to get ongoing and broad adoption of something in healthcare, one needs to lead with the clinicians.”
Second, Chase believes that many experts and critics are missing the core reason for the Google Health failure: money. “The fundamental driver of most … behavior in healthcare is the reimbursement scheme,” Chase stated in an article on TechCrunch.com. Chase fingers the current fee-for-service legacy reimbursement model as the fatal flaw in the effort to popularize PHRs.
Future of PHRs: “A Tsunami Lapping at the Shores”
Chase remains optimistic about the future of PHRs. He believes that healthcare works best and costs least when consumers partner with providers in their care. Chase also predicts a radical transformation of healthcare analogous to that seen in the mobile technologies industry.
One innovation he points to is concierge medicine. He says that, rather than the expensive legacy model (read: capital intensive assets), companies can use information technology (IT) to differentiate themselves and create value for consumers.
“Just as legacy telephone companies had to fundamentally transform themselves or they’d be an artifact of history, so too will healthcare organizations transform (or die),” stated Chase. “With the transformed healthcare ecosystem, there are requirements for entirely new categories of software that a new generation of startups will develop … I believe that we’re seeing the first waves of a tsunami lapping the shore.”
The optimism of experts like Chase is one reason why medical laboratory managers and pathologists should recognize that PHRs are not going away. PHRs represent a strategic opportunity for innovation and development in ways that add value to patients.
Because of the fact that the majority of the patient’s medical record consists of laboratory test data, clinical laboratories and pathology groups should be developing strategies to support PHRs in ways that raise their profile with both patients and physicians in their communities,
—Pamela Scherer McLeod