Electronic Health Records

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Google Health deletes user data ahead of Stage 2 Meaningful Use

- Google’s foray into the world of personal health records (PHR) did not pan out as anticipated, with minimal adoption and a general lack of interest in the service since its inception in 2008.  Although the website stopped accepting new information in January of 2012, the final blow comes on January 1, 2013, as all remaining user data is irretrievably deleted and the service closes its doors for good.  As Stage 2 Meaningful Use approaches with its emphasis on patient engagement and shareable records, providers may want to take a look at how one of the biggest names in technology failed to get its millions of users interested and involved.

As usual, Google thought they were ahead of the curve.  With the success of Gmail and its associated cloud storage ecosystem, it was natural to extend the capability to electronic health records, a concept that was just beginning to attract the government’s attention in 2008.  Users could add information to their Google Health record, and upload health conditions, medications, allergies, and lab results, producing a customized continuity of care record (CCR) that could alert users to drug interactions, allergies, and other medical information while providing them with a comprehensive PHR.

A sample Google Health record

The service was free, contained no advertising, and was completely voluntary.  Although Google Health could import medical and prescription data from major partners such as Allscripts, CVS Caremark, Quest Diagnostics, and Medco, users were assured that no information would be added to their account without their express permission.  However, Google Health was not considered a “covered entity” under HIPAA, which gave rise to privacy concerns among industry experts, and there was widespread speculation that customers were not willing to trust their highly personal data to a megacorporation with little legal recourse if something went wrong.

But the real obstacles were even bigger.  Yes, users could put their data online, and there were some limited interactive features, but ultimately, the service was not genuinely useful.  Doctors were not involved in a meaningful way.  Unlike current attempts at engaging patients with web portals that originate in the provider’s office, there was no functionality to schedule appointments or send secure messages to physicians and nurses.  There was no connectivity with insurance companies, many of which balked at the idea of sharing any of their data with Google.  Patients couldn’t make payments or view their claims status, ask questions or share information directly with their providers, leaving Google Health orphaned within the continuum of care.  Users couldn’t see a point in making the effort to store their data in the cloud if no one was going to do anything with it.

“My sense is that neither [Google Health nor Microsoft HealthVault] are dramatically successful,” said Adam Bosworth, original leader of Google Health in an interview with TechCrunch TV. “In Google’s case, it’s partly because they haven’t really pushed to see what people would want. They basically offered a place to store data. Our data shows people don’t really want a place to store data, per se. They want to do something fun and engaging. If it’s not fun, if it’s not social, why would they do it? Yes, they want to be healthy, but they need more than that. They need the encouragement and even the pressure of friends. They need the constant pressure, constant reminders.”  That was the trap that sealed the service’s fate, and one that patient engagement initiatives in 2013 and beyond are wise to avoid.  Google Health was neither a motivational social tool nor a physician-connected repository geared towards enabling patients to take full control of their care.

READ MORE: Recapping Final Stage 2 Meaningful Use Modifications Rule

Other services have stepped in to fill whatever hole Google has left in the lives of its users, and hopefully have more success in the future.  In 2011, Microsoft HealthVault added a feature to allow users to import their Google Health data straight to their service, and new companies like Onpatient are popping up to provide similar functionality with more extensive features, like image messaging and customizable forms for different physicians.  “If a person is using an iPhone, they can use Onpatient on their iPhone, have the doctor to scan a Passbook QR code, and the doctor will be given access to the medical record once verified,” says Onpatient co-founder Daniel Kivatinos.

Google Health may simply have arrived too early, before true patient engagement – and the technology that would render it viable – became a focus for the government and other healthcare groups nationwide.  “When we launched Google Health, our goal was to create a service that would give people access to their personal health and wellness information,” the Google team said in a blog post announcing the system’s closure. “But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.  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. We continue to be strong believers in the role information plays in healthcare and in improving the way people manage their health.”

Users have until January 1, 2013 to extract their data before their entire account is permanently deleted.  Google has provided a FAQ page for more information and instructions on how to transfer data to other services or retrieve and store information for personal records.

 

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