Google’s recent announcement that it was shutting down Google Health has left people wondering about the future of personal health records (PHRs) and the degree of interest among wary consumers in managing their health on the level that a service like Google Health would allow. Sorting through Google’s announcement, as well as several blog posts and articles, it seems that Google’s expectations for the service simply did not align with the still-emerging interest in a service that was not as well-defined as it needed to be to succeed.
- PHRs are a niche product. According to Google, "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."
- Google has other priorities. Google is a large public company. Good or bad, Wall Street backing brings high visibility and even higher expectations for every venture the company launches. Google has big plans for social media with Google +. Smaller Google-owned brands like Picasa and Blogger will be phased out as these platforms are integrated under the Google+ umbrella. Google Health doesn’t fit into these plans.
- Consumers interested in PHRs need receptive healthcare providers. When a new Rx product is launched, physicians are hesitant to prescribe it until they have developed a level of comfort with the benefits and any potential risks. The same holds true for PHRs. HCPs are adapting to growing cost and access pressures and have not had much exposure or experience with PHRs. Without the support of a physician, consumers are unlikely to adopt PHRs.
- PHRs are competing for attention and resources with electronic health records (EHRs). The electronic health record (EHR) is a longitudinal record of patient information that is designed to automate and streamline the workflow for everyone involved in the delivery of healthcare. While PHRs are a very logical extension of this platform, the adoption and integration of EHRs into practice is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Once HCPs are comfortable with EHRs, the personal platform will take off. Look for more on EHRs in an upcoming blog post.
- Physician reimbursement is based on face-to-face visits. In addition to a rapidly changing environment, doctors are likely recognizing that their compensation is often based only on office visits. While many acknowledge that over half of the time they spend on interactions does not need to be person, the real potential of PHRs will not be realized until there is an appropriate reimbursement model.