Has Google lost the PHR race?

by Anne Zieger on September 21, 2012

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A few years ago, a consensus began to develop that healthcare consumers needed a place to store — and control — their health data online. (If you’re asking why access to a well-designed electronic medical record doesn’t get the job done, join the club.)

This platform, known as a personal health record (PHR), was quickly embraced by technology vendors large and small, including Microsoft and Google.  Big employers also got into the act, not to mention health insurance companies, who offered PHRs that could be transferred if a patient switched carriers.

Fast forward a few years later, and the initial PHR model seems to be fading away.  Sure, Microsoft and Google still offer their respective products (Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault), but it seems that the providers have taken a different turn. Take Kaiser, whose HealthConnect service combines and EMR,  a personal health storage space for patients, plus the ability to perform useful tasks like setting appointments and retrieving test data.  HealthConnect. While there may be flaws to this model, too — such as whether patients really want their health plan to get extra data on their health status — but it seems to be working reasonably well for now.

Not one to be left by the roadside, Google is enhancing its PHR with new features that help patients monitor and manage their health.  While patients continue to enter and store, say, their last blood sugar reading, Google Health is also “a more welcoming place to set goals for yourself and check in daily on [patients’] progress,” wrote senior product manager Aaron Brown in a blog post.  It’s becoming

Interestingly, this is the direction researchers are taking at the Center for Connected Health, a division of Boston-based Partners HealthCare.  At Partners, the team has already seen success with a portal exchanging data between diabetics and doctors. In the program, patients upload glucometer data daily and enter comments on their status in a personal online health journal.  Providers review the data and comment on the patient’s situation via secure messaging.

So attractive is this model, in fact, that a Connected Health spinoff based on the telehealth/portal just got $6 million in venture funding.  The technology behind the startup, Healthrageous, is based on what the Center has learned to date.

As smart as Google people are, they’re technologists first and foremost.  I doubt they can compete with the immense store of medical data and clinical experience  likes of the Center, or even startups like Healthrageous which are beginning life as medically-focused companies.  Google, my friend, I hate to say it, but at this point your efforts seem like a “me too.”

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