Google Health, We Hardly Knew Ye

Posted on December 21, 2011


A myth of well-run and larger-than-life technology companies is everything they touch turns to gold. Google seems to fall into that category. However, not every Google project is a success, and Google Health is one of those unsuccessful efforts.

As Google’s blog post explains in announcing the program’s demise, Google Health was initially created as a way to allow individuals easy access and manageability to personal health records. It never really caught on, and January 1, 2012 the service will be terminated.

Although a good idea on the surface, numerous hypotheses exist as to why it did not survive:  HIPAA / privacy concerns, data integrity, lack of consumer (patient) / doctor communication, Big Brother is Watching concerns, lack of integration with ongoing Electronic Health Records (EHR) compliance and implementation across the nation, and the list goes on.  There was probably a pretty strong underground lobbying effort as well from the few established healthcare IT EHR companies who want to protect their cash cow (federally-mandated EMRs). Never underestimate the motivation of profits. Google likely would have been hit with regulatory red tape.  Maybe Google just did not throw enough money at it.

If Google were to disrupt the glacial movement that is EHR / EMR in healthcare with a more democratized, portable, self- or multi-party managed health history, it would be a herculean, maybe even heroic effort. Now is when EMR is vulnerable:  there is no dominant platform for EMR—no standards for program structure, data entry, etc. There are no Microsofts, no Amazons, no Apples, no Facebooks of the EMR world.  Google would and could have swooped right in.

My take is Google did not provide Health with the firepower it needed to catch on. Personally, I may have considered the service if it had some safeguards built-in.  But I never heard about it, nor did millions of others.  Google Health likely did not have the ‘gee whiz’ factor that Google Earth or other information aggregation efforts have produced. Since health records are not a hip topic, there was no chance at national adoption through a viral tidal wave.

On one level Google, like Apple, is about levity and cool, not the gravity of health records. Do we see Apple developing technology for the operating room?

I am not counting Google out altogether in this market; they might simply need time to regroup for another approach. The electronic health records market is far from settled and far from organized. Much like healthcare reform, the train has left the station but the destination is yet to be determined.

Posted in: Healthcare IT