This week, Google announced it was killing Google Health, its long-on-promise, short-on-users personal health record. The obit for the service was written a thousand different ways, with everyone figuring different culprits: the lack of “social,” the lack of security, the lack of buy-in from large players. And pretty much every explanation was right. Google Health was not the right product for most of the people brave enough to try it.
But the idea of Google Health has to live on if the next generation of patient is to co-exist with the next evolution of health care. At the core of Google Health was the user. Not the doc. Not the hospital or the community or the insurer. That was part of what gave the service its first rush of users: it was a place for us. Just us.
But — as I’ve said before — shoving data into a user-controlled health database wasn’t all that appealing. In other areas, the big Internet behemoths do wonderful things with my data. Google corrects my spelling and tries to complete my search strings. Facebook digs up elementary school pals. Amazon finds books to read, Netflix finds movies. I feel like a smarter searcher, a smarter consumer. (The ability of the web to do this is at the heart of colleague Bob Pearson’s Pre-Commence; there’s a link to the book appended to this post.)
Google Health didn’t make me smarter. It didn’t make me healthier. It didn’t plug into my running GPS device and suggest fun local runs, and it didn’t pull down data from the Weight Watchers app. Realists will point out that there are damn good privacy reasons for that, but I’m still let down. Health and medicine is about forging connections between behaviors and outcomes; indeed, most of public health communications is dedicated to figuring out how to hammer those cause-and-effect loops into the minds of consumers. Software should be ideally suited to that task.
At a time where the Holy Grail of commerce — putting the right product in front of the right consumer at exactly the right time — is coming ever closer (sometimes in scary ways), the Holy Grail of health — linking the consequence of our health history, our health status and our health choices with risks and benefits — remains maddeningly elusive. If we want better health decisions, we need to find a way around the health-privacy worries to deliver consumers important, personalized information.
We now know that Google Health will never deliver that information. Can anyone?