Google Health to Shut Down — What does this Mean for Personal Health Records?

In order to meet the requirements for Meaningful Use, eligible providers will be required to share information with a patient as defined by either Core or Optional Measures. For more detail on what is required for patient communication under Meaningful Use, click here. Over the past week, there has been a lot of coverage of Google’s announcement to shut down Google Health on January 1, 2012. For example, read the following Jan 25 article in FierceHealth IT.

We know that consumer demand for healthcare information is high, so why did Google Health never pick up traction? Similarly Microsoft Healthvault has struggled to attract large numbers of providers or consumers to their platform, although there seems to be a bit more momentum with Healthvault.

I believe this is based upon a number of factors:

  • Build it and they will come does not really hold true with PHRs. There is a significant effort component to entering data, updating, and maintaining a personal health record.
  • The majority of people do not look after their money well. Is it realistic to expect that they would look after their health any better?
  • There is just not enough value. If PHRs had rich and relevant information that was regularly and automatically updated (including insurance data, a dynamic list of medications, upcoming physician appointments and reminders, the ability to book appointments directly with a care provider, etc.), the greater the value in having and maintaining a Personal Health Record.
  • I will borrow a line from one of Apple’s advertising campaigns: the PHR should “just work” — no questions asked, minimal setup and configuration required. In addition to providing information, it needs to make a patient’s life easier.
  • The need for “tethered” information. The concept here is that the information actually needs to be attached to a provider’s EHR, whether it be the hospital or a primary care physician. Standalone information has much more limited value.

PHRs are a great idea. Perhaps (as with many new technology solutions), it is just ahead of its time.

At the moment, patient portals (a view of the physician or hospital EHR system designed for patient access) are the most logical alternative to a personal health record. They meet a number of the above criteria. Patient portals are connected to their provider’s EHRs, provided valuable “tethered” information, and in many cases allow patients to interact with their provider, for example to book an appointment.

My personal take: patient portals are here to stay; give PHRs another 5–10 years.

What do you think? Add your thoughts or comments to this post.

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