June 27 2011
The Retirement of Google Health: What it Means for the Personal Health Record
By now, most of you know that Google has officially announced the retirement of Google Health. I’ve always thought Google was a great advocate for consumer health engagement and it's a shame to see them exit the market. At this stage in the game, any gains in the consumer health arena are gains for all parties involved and Google did a great job of helping move this industry along.
For the last month and a half, since Chilmark Research declared Google Health "in stasis," I've received a lot of questions about what the sunsetting of Google Health would mean for Cerner Health, Cerner's personal health management platform. First, I think it means anyone developing a personal health record needs to stop and ask whether they're making the same choices as Google did. It also means that there is at least some population of PHR users that would really appreciate a new home for their personal health information. Beyond that, I'm not sure it means a whole lot.
According to Google's announcement, "There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people." Not enough users. Or, not enough users that stayed users. I think the challenge was a strategy that relied on the marketplace to create the value on top of the personal health record, and the marketplace just wasn't ready/empowered/interested in doing that in a coordinated fashion. Or at least not very well incentivized to do it. While there’s definitely a lot of value in the personal health record (I called it the most important and least interesting part of our strategy in my previous blog post), this isn’t a technology problem. Without the engaging, connected layer on top of it, it just won’t draw people in.
So what to do? Rather than focusing on growing our overall user count like mad, Cerner is taking a more measured approach and focusing on building the value of the personal health platform for specific populations in specific ways. Healthcare is too personal to take a general approach. Cerner is creating interesting experiences that sit on top of the Cerner Health platform. A not-so-shocking revelation for a lot of people in the PHR racket is when they finally really, truly realize that people aren't just clamoring to sit at a computer and type in their personal health information. Back in March, I described our approach for building the PHR you didn't even know you're using - one that combines games, managed programs, and smart devices to make it simple to keep your record up-to-date. So simple, you may not even realize you're maintaining a personal health record. We're continuing on that path and are releasing new games and incentive programs all the time. More on our roadmap in another post. The point is, while we're definitely building a platform, we're also building the fun applications that sit on top of it.
The second key is that we're focusing on building up one population at a time. I compare it to why the video phone never tookoff. Why would I buy a video phone when no one else I know has one? Rather than going broadly to the whole country, Cerner is focusing on building one regional network at a time. Not only are the health and care needs of each region different, it takes a lot of groundwork to build the network that makes a personal health record useful and worthwhile. That's why Cerner is starting with regional initiatives that will create the infrastructure and connections that will keep people interested. The first regional initiative is in Cerner's backyard of Kansas City, and begins with a city-wide weight loss competition. While the competition itself is going to be a lot of fun, the important angle is getting the network of doctors, employers, and consumers built in Kansas City. After building up one network, we'll move on to the next. After a while, it will start to get easier and eventually we'll see hundreds of health-related websites with "Sign in with Cerner Health" buttons on them.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this. If you have been using Google Health to keep your personal health information collected, Cerner Health is a great next step for you. While we haven’t necessarily built the regional network in your area yet, we’ll get there. In the coming weeks, we're going to transition Cerner Health from a "invitation only" model to open sign up. You'll be able to import your records from Google Health into Cerner Health. As a founding member of the Direct Project, we will also enable you to easily transfer your record from Google Health automatically.
We look forward to seeing you at Cerner Health.
And a P.S. for the HCIT community…
If you’re a developer who used Google Health’s identity or PHR platform, you can look forward to a complete identity and record developer website in the coming months to enable your health-related website or mobile application. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to receive an advance copy of that information or if you'd like to be an alpha development partner.
Health Care Providers:
If you are a health care provider who relied on Google Health as part of your strategy to engage patients and families, contact us at email@example.com and we can help you start planning a transition.
Brian Carter is a Senior Director at Cerner responsible for Consumer Health strategy. He spends his days working with a world-class team on new ways to get every person excited about being the healthiest they can be.