Google Hits Reset Button on Google Health

By John Moore
08:58 AM
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Google Health has seemingly been stuck in neutral almost from the start.  Despite the fanfare of Google’s Eric Schmidt speaking at the big industry confab, HIMSS a couple of years back, an initial beta release with healthcare partner Cleveland Clinic and a host of partners announced once the service was opened to the public in May 2008, Google Health just has not seemed to live up to its promise. Chilmark has looked on with dismay as follow-on announcements and updates from Google Health were modest at best and not nearly as compelling as Google’s chief competitor in this market, Microsoft and its corresponding HealthVault.  Most recently we began to hear rumors that Google had all but given up on Google Health, something that did not come as a surprise, but was not a welcomed rumor here at Chilmark for markets need competitors to drive innovation.  If Google pulled out, what was to become of HealthVault or any other such service?

Thus, when Google contacted Chilmark last week to schedule a briefing in advance of a major announcement, we were somewhat surprised and welcomed the opportunity.  Tuesday, we had that thorough briefing and Chilmark is delighted to report that Google Health is still in the game having made a number of significant changes to its platform.

Moving to Health & Wellness

Wednesday, Google announced a complete rebuild of Google Health with a new user interface (UI) a refocusing on health & wellness and signing on additional partners and data providers.  Google told Chilmark that the new UI is based upon significant user feedback and a number of usability studies that they have performed over the last several months. Rather than a fairly static UI (the previous version), the new UI takes advantage of common portal technologies that allow the consumer to create a personalized dashboard presenting information that is most pertinent to a consumer’s specific health and wellness interests and needs.  So rather then focusing on common, basic PHR-type functions, e.g., view immunization records, med lists, procedures and the like, the new UI focuses on the tracking of  health and wellness metrics. This is not unlike what Microsoft is attempting to do with MSN Health and their health widgets that subsequently link into a consumer’s HealthVault account, though first impressions lead us to give a slight edge to Google Health’s new UI for tracking health metrics.

A particularly nice feature in the new Google Health is the consumer’s ability to choose from a number of pre-configured wellness tracking metrics such as blood pressure, caloric intake, exercise, weight, etc.  Once a given metric is chosen, the user can set personal goals and track and trend results over time.  There is also the ability to add notes to particular readings, thereby keeping a personal journal of what may have led to specific results. And if one cannot find a specific health metric they would like to track, the new platform provides one the ability to create their own, for example the one in the figure below to measure coffee consumption. Nice touch Google.

On the partnership front, Google is also announcing partnerships with healthcare organizations Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, UPMC and Sharp Healthcare and has added some additional pharmacy chains such as Hannaford and Food Lion among others.  On the device side, Google has the young Massachusetts start-up fitbit (novel pedometer that can also monitor sleep patterns) and the WiFi scale company, Withings.  On the mobile front, Google has added what they say is the most popular personal trainer Android app, CardioTrainer and mPHR solution provider ZipHealth (full disclosure, I’m an advisor to the creators of ZipHealth, Applied Research Works) which has one of the better mPHR apps in the market.

If any metric is a sign of pent-up consumer demand for what Google Health will now offer it may be CardioTrainer. In our call yesterday, the new head of Google Health, Aaron Brown stated that they did a soft launch of CardioTrainer on Google Health by just putting a simple upload button in CardioTrainer that would move exercise data to a Google Health account.  In two weeks, over 50K users have uploaded their data to Google Health. Pretty incredible.

Challenges Remain

Chilmark is delighted with what Google has done with Google Health.  The new interface and focus takes Google Health in a new direction, one that focuses on the far larger segment of the market, those that are not sick and want to keep it that way through health and wellness activities.  Today, within the employer market, there is a major transition occurring with employers focusing less on disease management and looking towards health and wellness solutions that keep their employees healthy, productive and out of the hospital. Google may be able to capitalize on this trend provided it strikes the right partnership deals with those entities that currently serve the employer market (payers and third party administrators).  Chilmark will not be holding its breath though as to date, Google has not had much success in the enterprise market for virtually any of its services.

And that is one of many challenges Google will continue to face in this market.

First, how will Google readily engage the broad populace to use Google Health?  Google has struggled in the enterprise market, regardless of sector, and will likewise struggle in health as well, be it payers, providers or employers. Without these entities encouraging consumers to use Google Health (especially providers as consumers have the greatest trust in them), Google Health will continue to face significant challenges in gaining broad adoption and use of its platform.  But as the previous example of CardioTrainer points out, Google may have a card up its sleeve in gaining traction by going directly to the consumer through its partners, but it will need far more partners than it has today to make this happen.

Second, the work that Google has done to re-architect the interface and focus on wellness, particularly the tracking and trending of biometric or self-entered data is a step in the right direction, but Google has not been aggressive enough in signing on device manufacturers that can automatically dump biometric data into a consumer’s Google health account.  Yes, Google is a member of the Continua Alliance but Continua and its members have been moving painfully slow in bringing consumer-centric devices to market. HealthVault, with its Connection Center, is leaps and bounds beyond where Google is today and where Google needs to be to truly support its new health and wellness tracking capabilities.  Google’s ability to attract and retain new partners across the spectrum of health and wellness will be pivotal to long-term success.

Third, Google has chosen not to update its support of standards and remains dedicated to its modified version of CCR.  While CCR is indeed a standard that has seen some uptake in the market, Chilmark is seeing most large healthcare enterprises devoting their energies to the support of the CCD standard.  In our conversation with Google Tuesday we mentioned this issue and Google stated that they are hoping the VA/CMS Blue Button initiative will take hold and provide a new mechanism by which consumers retrieve their healthcare data and upload it to Google Health.  The Blue Button is far from a done deal and has its fair share of challenges as well. Google is taking quite a risk here and would be better off swallowing the CCD pill.

In closing, Chilmark is quite excited to see what Google has done with their floundering Google Health.  They have truly hit the reset button, have a new team in place and are refocusing their efforts on a broader spectrum of the market.  These are welcomed changes and it is our hope that with this new focus, this new energy, Google will begin to show the promise that we at Chilmark have always had for this company to help consumers better manage their health.

 

John Moore blogs regularly at Chilmark Research.