Google Health failed, and the question is, why? Let's start by asking what personal health records (PHRs) are supposed to accomplish.
A PHR is a location in the cloud for a patient to hold her data that is independent of any provider's electronic health record (EHR). The data belongs to patient, travels with her if she changes provider, and gives her a single interface to access her own health data. Moreover, it is a platform for her to collect and store health data by herself, amplifying her ability to maintain and improve her health.
This sounds like a big win for patients, but apparently they didn't want it. John Moore thinks he knows why
Few consumers are interested in a digital filing cabinet for their records. What they are interested in is what that data can do for them. Can it help them better manage their health and/or the health of a loved one? Will it help them make appointments? Will it saved them money on their health insurance bill, their next doctor visit? Can it help them automatically get a prescription refill? These are the basics that the vast majority of consumers want addressed first and Google Health was unable to deliver on any of these.
Apparently, the applications that might have been built on the GH platform never appeared.
Adam Bosworth, one of the founders of Google Health, says that the problem was that GH was not 'social.'
“If it’s not fun, it’s not social, why would they do that?” he ask[ed]. “Yes, they want to be healthy, but they want more than that. They want the encouragement and even the pressure of friends.”
I think they are both right. What I would add is that the creators of GH may have underestimated the skills and motivation that are needed to use data to improve one's health.
When I was an age-grouper triathlete (that is, an amateur hoping to do well in my age class in local events), I used various on-line software applications to record data about my weight, diet, training times, and so on. It was a lot of work, and it took years to understand how the data could inform my training, and to find a set of practices that really helped. Moreover, the social component was crucial. I trained with a group, and this made all the difference, both because of the opportunity to learn what works, and the fun of doing it all with good friends. GH had an opportunity here, if they could have provided a set of tools for us to collect our training data and communicate with the sports medicine docs that we all needed.
Patient communities also bring together groups of motivated friends who support each other in dealing with their health. My triathlon 'career' went on hold when my hip and knee wore out -- but I'll be back! -- and I am now a member of Patients Like Me. This impressive community of people working together to cope with chronic illnesses is a place where I can imagine that an open source, non-profit PHR (like Indivo) might find a place to start.
So, Google Health failed because it did not find a community for which a PHR provided sufficient value to generate the social effects that might have allowed GH to grow virally. I am convinced that PHRs are the future; and that they will grow out from social networks of people who are already engaged in using health data, such as athletes, and the chronically ill. However, we have been waiting a long time for a good EHR, so I expect that this will take a while.