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Google Rains on the Cloud's Parade!

June 30, 2011
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Google throws in the towel on consumer health information storage and management

This week Google announced it is throwing in the towel on consumer health information storage and management. Does Google know something we don’t? With all the impending changes in healthcare IT, particularly the emphasis on electronic patient records, why would Google pull out at this point in time? The stated reason is a disappointing adoption rate of the service by consumers. I find it hard to believe that this would be reason to pull out – especially since to date the service has been free of charge!

So what else is going on here? Clearly the adoption rate isn’t what Google would have expected. Part of the argument put forth is that few healthcare providers actually can send information to patients electronically due to a low adoption rate of electronic records. With physicians soon to have an incentive to be electronic, I would expect we are on the cusp of such a capability. So why leave the party before it even begins?

Google has a stake in commercial cloud-based computing and data storage, so perhaps they feel that it may be better to leverage this resource with healthcare providers in terms of Health Information Exchanges. Certainly the early investment of healthcare providers is in supporting electronic records that benefit their ability to comply with ARRA/Meaningful Use. Supporting those initiatives may initially have greater success in terms of implementation and resources.

Another factor is that there is little infrastructure in place to enable healthcare providers to ingest information into Google’s application. Sure, there are some associations such as certain pharmacy groups to send medication history, but in general, there does not appear to be any simple provider means of doing so. I’m sure it was fairly straightforward to set up Google’s end. The lack of widespread standards implementation such as XDS (cross document sharing) might be a factor in the difficulty on the provider’s end.

Given prior Google competitiveness on other search engine and social networking applications, it is surprising that Google would do this. They have pioneered many internet applications and haven’t been afraid to invest. So why the hesitancy now? Entities such as Microsoft and their Health Vault seem to be better positioned, and ready to pick up the slack. Another point – the explosion of portable devices such as the iPad is just beginning. These will be the impetus for consumers to adopt the technology. True it is the younger generation that has more readily embraced the technology, and the older generation is the one in need of more healthcare. But certainly the younger generation will be active in the healthcare of their parents.

Is this a tipping point? Will others follow Google’s lead out? Will we need to wait for the full implementation of provider-based electronic records to embrace the consumer side? Or, is this the opportunity for others to step up and take Google’s place as the pioneer? Could an ATandT or some other consumer-facing company see this as an opportunity to develop the infrastructure to make this a reality? Only time will tell. I for one will be watching with keen interest. As I have previously blogged, there are certain ramifications as to who owns patient data and controls access. Personally, I think Google acted prematurely and will certainly regret it – that is unless there is an ulterior motive!