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Home > Blog > 2011 > Google abandons plans for personal health records


Google abandons plans for personal health records

Consultants accessing patient records

Google has announced that it plans to “retire” Google Health in January 2012. It’s a blow to those in the medical tourism world who had grand plans for the “global patient record” and who were using the Google health record as the model or template for this.

Back in 2007, Google announced Google Health with the words: “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”

What factors have driven Google to abandon Google Health and is there a message here for the concept of the “global health record” in the medical tourism world?

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 their health record online and couldn’t see it fulfilling a need. So, is there a real need for a “global patient record” in the medical tourism sector? Do we really a need a system whereby a patient’s record can be transferred from country A to country B in a common electronic format? The honest answer...probably not. I can’t think of an instance of an electronic patient record which is exchangeable between multiple providers and multiple systems AND which gets used extensively which exists within one country, let alone internationally. 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 this pay for) Google Health. They said they wouldn’t place advertising on the records. They considered aggregating the data and selling it on to pharma companies... but it was never going to achieve sufficient scale. So, in the medical tourism model, who pays for the electronic patient record system.... the development, the storage of the data, the security?
  • 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. The same may be true of the global health record in medical tourism  - a highly fragmented market with a multitude of providers and players.

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:

Date published: 01 July 2011


Comments provided below do not represent the views of IMTJ. Comments will be published 'as is' and will not be edited by IMTJ staff. IMTJ is hosting these comments, and is not undertaking an editorial role. However, it is editorial policy to publish comments that have been submitted anonymously. 

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About me

Keith Pollard

Keith Pollard

I am CEO of Intuition Communication Ltd, a web publishing business in the healthcare sector. Our sites include International Medical Travel Journal, Treatment Abroad, the medical tourism portal, DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal and Private Healthcare UK, the UK's leading site for private healthcare services. I am a regular speaker and commentator on medical tourism and the independent healthcare sector.

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Having founded Microsoft's Health business and recently launching something (launched at TechCrunch Disrupt a month ago) that has some overlap with Google Health, I've had some people ask for my reaction. Here's my quick take….
1. It's tough, even for big companies, to focus on a bunch of different things.. they simply have bigger fish to fry.
2. The Health space is a very difficult one and by the way could be rather expensive and require <a href="http://ameriloansearch.com/"><b>paycheck loans</b></a>. A company dedicated solely to healthcare will still have challenges. Without laser beam focus, that becomes tougher.
3. 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.

Jennyfer Smith (10/09/2011 07:47:12)

Thanks for the information. It certainly seems like due to the fragmented state of the medical tourism industry, there are several more fundamental steps that must be taken before a concept like the global patient record can be implemented successfully. I linked to this article in my blog, which discusses medical travel--specifically to Mexico, but also in a global context. Please take a look: www.MedTravelMexico.com, also on Twitter @MedTravelMexico. Thanks!

Julie V (05/07/2011 14:13:42)

Keith has brought to our attention an issue whose complexity had not been "factored in" by those who, based on superficial and simplistic thinking, thought they had discovered the Rosetta Stone - which they could use as the platform for a universal or provider-specific eHealth Record.

Even the HL7 organization dedicated to providing a framework and standards for electronic health information has not yet "cracked the nut".

eHealth - needs to be seen in terms of elements (Codes, Terminology and Narrative).

Practically all countries have adopted the same standard Coding and Terminology system.

The problem appears with the "narrative". This is a point I first made in 2009 in a presentation at the International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Health and in a presentation at the International TEMOS Conference.
Codes are all about letters and numbers (and they do not need to be translated into any national language - contrary to what some "on a fool's errand" are aiming to do).

But the eHealth Record is also "narrative rich" - and the narrative is in a national language. Healthcare may be global but it is not language-neutral.
And of course, the ideal eHealth Record should be "readable by and understandable to" both the patient and the Health Professional.

The eHealth Record (with thousands of proprietary versions) has not managed to introduce the universally accepted - and adopted - health sector equivalent of a universal language such as Esperanto or Interlingua (neither of which achieved their aims).

Malcolm Gladwell (in "the Tipping Point") reminds us that platforms are only adopted as "universal systemic platforms" when a lot of people adopt them - which in turn, encourages and motivates more people to adopt them (until the tipping point is reached - i.e., universal adoption and implementation).

Constantine Constantinides (04/07/2011 09:25:39)

Google Health never was the 400 lb. Gorilla in this space; Microsoft HealthVault is. It will be interesting to see their response.

Best analysis, yet, points to the threat of hackers and civil rights issues as the unstated reason for Google Health exiting the scene - http://tinyurl.com/T4H80.

Impact on medical tourism -- an awakening that International medical encounters require more clinically-focused case-management than a DIYer can achieve regardless of being empowered w/technology power-tools.

Ilene Little (03/07/2011 22:55:00)

Is there a lesson in this for those involved in the healthcare travel? Data portability is only as important as patient mobility and there just aren't enough numbers at the moment. Does Google Health's demise spell the demise of Global Healthcare Travel. Unless the industry reorients itself along latitudes and longitudes of demand and supply, and tangible market dynamics on a regional footprint, chances are healthcare travel will remain a cottage industry and patient traffic no more than a little, errant stream!

Zahid Hamid (03/07/2011 10:34:14)

I for one could never get GoogleHealth or HealthVault to work outside of the USA. Then I was told that it was designed to work in the USA specifically designed to HIPAA standards, and therefore was not enabled for outside the USA.

We use a cloud based repository for our international patient records that is SFTP as a workaround. Trying to integrated with the providers at a deeper level will take a standardization across PIPEDA, Data Protection Directive (officially Directive 95/46/EC) and all the others out there. With groups like ECHO wanting to do things only in and for the EU if everybody did that, we would just have more silos. ("meh")

We should be using forums like EMTC to dive deeper into these necessary industry advancements when thought leaders are in one place and can layout a framework. Otherwise, I fear it will be at least another 5-7 years before we see a global patient record.

Maria Todd, MHA PhD (02/07/2011 00:20:28)