RIP Google Health

The San Francisco office uses a Google Health/Health 2.0 lanyard to turn on our lights. We have no plans of taking it down.

The rumors had been around for a while but the news still stings. Today, the Official Google Blog announced the retirement of Google Health. The blog reads: “While (it) didn’t scale as we had hoped, we believe (Google Health) did highlight the importance of access to information in areas where it’s traditionally been difficult.”

The project hit a sweet spot with tech-savvy patients, plugged in caregivers and, more recently, fitness and wellness enthusiasts.  But affecting the daily health routines of millions of people is no easy task. Despite Google Health’s success with these empowered patient populations, they struggled to scale to widespread adoption.

According to the announcement, Google Health will continue to operate the site as usual through January 1, 2012, and has provided 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. Although deletion is never pleasant, Google Health is bowing out in the most professional way possible.

Health 2.0 applauds how easy Google Health has made it for it’s existing customers to download their data. Similar to the Blue Button, you can print it, save it, transfer it or port your data to any other services that support industry-standard formats. Over the coming weeks they’ll also be adding the ability to directly transfer your health data to other services that support the Direct Project protocol, an emerging open standard for efficient health data exchange. Currently available formats include:

  • Printable PDF including all the records in your Google Health profile
  • Industry-standard Continuity of Care Record (CCR) XML that can be imported into other personal health tools such as Microsoft® HealthVault™
  • Comma-separated value (CSV) files that can be imported into spreadsheets and database programs for ongoing tracking and graphing
  • HTML and XML versions of the original “data notices” sent to your Google Health profile by linked data providers
  • A unified ZIP archive that includes all files you’ve uploaded to your profile, plus all of the formats above

We’ll see who picks up the slack in the PHR market. Some of Google Health’s population was using the product as a data utility layer to combine information from multiple in home devices or remotely monitor loved ones. Products exist to meet a handful of these needs (see GravityEight or RunKeeper) but it’s not known which brand(s) patients will turn to or if a new competitor will step forward. It’s also unknown whether Microsoft Health Vault or current EHR vendors will support patient participation in the same way Google Health had. Health 2.0 co-chairman, Matthew Holt, suggested that Google shouldn’t retire the program but should, instead, flip it into an open source group – perhaps featuring it at the upcoming OSCON.

One of the final lines in the post touches upon the most important idea behind the Google Health Project. “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.”

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/dallakyans Sarkis Dallakian

    Thanks for this post. I was shocked to read about the retirement of Google Health. If it didn't work for Google, what are the chances of small startups succeeding in this area? Also, I what would happen to Microsoft HealthVault?

    • e-Patient Dave

      Experts, as I say below, I'm not certain of details, so please correct as needed.

      Sarkis,

      > If it didn’t work for Google, what are the

      > chances of small startups succeeding in this area?

      I don't have a comprehensive view of the ecosystem so this isn't a comprehensive answer but I want to point to a few things.

      First, I've long been a supporter of patients and families having 100% open access to their medical records, including the ability to curate the content, download it, and access it from anywhere in an emergency. Today's big-iron EMR vendors not only have been dreadfully slow to allow this, some of them (and their allies) testified AGAINST allowing this last year in Washington. As long as the big-money players are dragging their feet, the best strategy is to empower consumers, I think.

      The same applies to all the reactionary healthcare providers (hospitals, physician organizations) who persist in telling Washington that consumers don't want to know this stuff and it frankly would just be too much work for them to let us see our own data. These assertions are routinely full of superstitions, and besides, my view is that it's my family's data and I pay for its creation and they darn well ought to let me have it. If they drag their feet, let's empower the people whose lives are at stake, and PHRs are a good path.

      Second, I think a lot of people are learning that health data is sensitive, so quality and reliability are important – perhaps a bigger task than other consumer tools. (If I lose my cloud-stored Tripit.com airline data, nobody gets hurt in an emergency room, etc.) At the very least, I think a vendor must offer reasonably prompt phone support, and to the best of my knowledge, this isn't something that fits with Google's business model. (If I'm wrong someone will correct me.)

      To answer your question about Microsoft, the last I heard, HealthVault is a platform for many tools, more like an OS, where Google Health was a specific app. Microsoft has a substantial revenue-generating health IT business, which to my knowledge Google did not.

      Another issue is workflow, including measures to address data quality. When I sent part of my medical record from my hospital to Google Health a couple years ago, Google trustingly accepted it. (Why wouldn't they??) They didn't realize that the hospital might send crap, which it did. (My insurance records, not my clinical data, and with no dates attached.) I haven't used the HealthVault PHR, but I'm told that it brings imported data into a sort of holding bin where it can be checked, picked through, etc, so the only thing that gets into the record is curated information. Good.

      I don't know a thing about Google's decision but I sure love Matthew's idea of handing it to the Open Source community at OSCON next month. Where citizens need something and there's no clear business model, instinct says it may make sense to put it in the hands of consumers.

      (And Deb, I too applaud Google's decision to fully support porting the data to elsewhere, giving people 18 months to do it. ALL the data! And in a readily interchangeable format. May all vendors offer the same someday, including Big Iron!)

  • http://kswrites.blogspot.com/2009/12/google-chief-only-miscreants-worry.html Kay Stoner

    Thank God that's going away. A company which has such a long and storied history of privacy issues has no business warehousing such sensitive data. Huge potential for data breaches, information misuse, and real problems. And you thought it was bad when your email was hacked…

  • http://www.health2con.com/members/deb/ Deb Linton
    • -Some really interesting detail on HealthVault, Indivo and the Direct Project can be found on Fred Trotter’s blog
    • -You can also sign a petition requesting that Google Health be made open source.
    • -Another good opinion to check out is Andy Oram’s piece on O’Reilly Radar.
    • Finally, John Grohol explains why Google Health wasn’t a big deal to begin with.