Google backtracks on plans for Google Health and the personal health record

Google has announced plans to “retire” Google Health in January 2012. It’s a blow to those in the healthcare business who had big ideas for using Google Health as the basis of a “global patient record” and who adopted the Google health record as the model for this. 

In 2007, at the launch of Google Health, Google stated: “By digitizing health records and giving control over them to the patients, they will be able to make better informed decisions. With health records stored in a central server, patients will be able to access them from anywhere, whether they move to a new city or are traveling while on vacation, so that, in an emergency, unfamiliar health care providers can get a comprehensive view of their health history” (Source: ABC news - Google Moving Forward on Health Initiative). 

In withdrawing the system, Google says that Google Health “didn't scale as we had hoped.... we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would” 

So, what has driven Google to abandon Google Health and is there a message here for the concept of the “global health record” for the healthcare sector?

Here are some of the factors that have been put forward for the failure of Google Health: 

  • Slow rate of adoption: i.e. there wasn’t a market need. People aren’t that bothered about maintaining a health record online and couldn’t see it fulfilling a need. So, is there a need for a “global patient record” in the independent healthcare sector? Do we a need a system whereby a private patient’s record can be transferred from consultant A or hospital B to consultant C or hospital D in a common electronic format? The honest answer...probably not. There are few instances of electronic patient records which are exchangeable between multiple providers and multiple systems AND which gets used extensively. The “global patient record” is a great concept.....but a long way from reality.
  • No revenue stream: The problem Google faced was how could they monetise (and thus pay for) Google Health. They said they wouldn’t place advertising on the records. They considered aggregating the data and selling it on to pharmaceutical companies... but it was never going to achieve an economy of scale.
  • Complexity of the market: Many businesses and people get involved in the healthcare sector without appreciating the complexity of the market and the effort required to achieve adoption of a new concept. To make Google Health work, required Google to develop relationships with a multitude of stakeholders in the healthcare sector. 

So does Google Health’s demise open the door for Microsoft’s HealthVault? We can only wait and see.

For additional perspectives on why Google Health died a death:

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About the author

Keith Pollard is Managing Director of Intuition Communication, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK, the Harley Street Guide, and Surgery Door. Intuition is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View for my full profile.

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