Sad news reached us today that Google is to close its Health service. While the company says that it simply failed to gain enough traction to be sustainable in the longterm, to me it doesn’t bode well for the future of healthcare.
Google Health was designed to let individuals manage all their own healthcare information, set health targets, create custom trackers for things like amounts of sleep or caffeine intake, share health information with people who need it and potentially connect their profile information to devices and services via an API. In short, it was an open platform for health information and care, and it had the potential to revolutionise an entire industry.
Sadly though, it just hasn’t taken off. As Google notes in today’s announcement, “We’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. 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.”
For over ten years, Google has attempted to ‘Googlify’ a range of industries away from its core search and advertising business, from telephony to TV to the forthcoming mobile payments service Google Wallet. In fact, as Jeff Jarvis’ excellent book ‘What Would Google Do?’ argues, Google’s approach of experimentation and openness could revolutionise any industry. On health, Jarvis wrote “Google has opened up most human knowledge today - any that is digital and searchable – so I’m confident it could do the same with medical knowledge.”
Sadly, that’s not to be. On the first day of 2012, Google Health will be closed – but why? Maybe Google under Larry Page is streamlining, stripping out some of the products that it believes will simply never take off. Frederic Lardinois suggests today, “Maybe Google just lost patience – or it simply didn’t see any commercial future for the service, which never attracted many users and partners. Google says its inability to scale the products up to a level that made them worthwhile for the company is the reason for shutting them down.”
That may make business sense, but it’s sad to see. Healthcare is sprawling industry in which, all too often, the patients play second fiddle to bureaucracy and profit-hungry drug and health insurance companies. It’s ripe for the kind of disruption a brave, big-thinking technology company can provide.
While Microsoft’s competing Health Vault lives on, that’s not exactly taken off either, and in the immediate future there’s no-one waiting in the wings to drag healthcare towards a patient-led, technology-powered revolution that’s long overdue. Sure, there are tech startups operating on the fringes, but no-one with the clout and size of Google.
Maybe Google Health was ahead of its time, but I sure hope someone comes along to give the concept another shot.