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Personal health records

Google to pull the plug on its PHR

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – In a low-key announcement issued on a company web site, Google said it is discontinuing Google Health – the web-based personal health record (PHR) system it launched with great fanfare at the HIMSS 2008 conference.

At that time, the announcement was greeted with great excitement in the marketplace, which believed that the entry of giants like Google and Microsoft, with its HealthVault platform, were sure-fire evidence that personal health systems were catching on.

While Microsoft’s HealthVault has been attracting users and licencees in the United States, Canada, the UK and Germany, Google says its own system hasn’t gained much traction in the marketplace.

According to the Google web site: “In the coming months, we’re going to retire two products that didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped, but did serve as influential models: Google Health (retiring January 1, 2012; data available for download through January 1, 2013) and Google PowerMeter (retiring September 16, 2011). PowerMeter is an energy management application.

“Both were based on the idea that with more and better information, people can make smarter choices, whether in regard to managing personal health and wellness, or saving money and conserving energy at home. While they didn't scale [up] as we had hoped, we believe they did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult.”

Put more bluntly, Google hasn’t figured out a way to make money with Google Health. And it seems that even a company like Google, which has spouted homilies about changing the world, will only put up with losing money for so long.

In contrast to Google’s consumer approach, Microsoft developed HealthVault as a platform which is licensed to other organizations – who in turn develop applications to attract members of the public.

The real death knell for Google Health came with the transition of CEOs. Earlier this year, Eric Schmidt departed as CEO and Google co-founder Larry Page took over at the tiller. It was widely reported then that Google Health was on Page’s hatchet list.

The latest Google announcement went on to say:

“More broadly, we remain committed as always to helping people around the world access and use information pertinent to them. We’ll continue to pursue this goal and to encourage government and industry to do the same.

“When we launched Google Health, our goal was to create a service that would give people access to their personal health and wellness information. We wanted to translate our successful consumer-centered approach from other domains to healthcare and have a real impact on the day-to-day health experiences of millions of our users.

“Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people. That’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue the Google Health service. We’ll continue to operate the Google Health site as usual through January 1, 2012, and we’ll provide an ongoing way for people to download their health data for an additional year beyond that, through January 1, 2013. Any data that remains in Google Health after that point will be permanently deleted.”

All of this pertains only to U.S. users, as Google Health was only available to U.S. residents.

But who knows, Google may re-enter the Personal Health Record sector at some point. They left this impression, at least, with some remarks in their announcement:

“In the end, while we weren’t able to create the impact we wanted with Google Health, we hope it has raised the visibility of the role of the empowered consumer in their own care. We continue to be strong believers in the role information plays in healthcare and in improving the way people manage their health, and we’re always working to improve our search quality for the millions of users who come to Google every day to get answers to their health and wellness queries.”

Posted July 14, 2011