Tracking the rumored death of Google Health

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsNext week longtime Google CEO Eric Schmidt will hand over control to one of the company's founders, Larry Page -- a substantial restructuring that surely indicates other changes are likely for Googlers and their many projects. A report in the Wall Street Journal this week specifically calls out the company's personal health records (PHR) offering Google Health:

"Some managers believe Mr. Page will eliminate or downgrade projects he doesn’t believe are worthwhile, freeing up employees to work on more important initiatives, these people said," the WSJ reports. "One project expected to get less support is Google Health, which lets people store medical records and other health data on Google’s servers, said people familiar with the matter."

It's not the first time Google Health's future has been called into question, but some believe the report is baseless:

"I think the demise of Google Health is a little premature to forecast," well-known health IT thought leader Dr. David Kibbe told SearchHealthIT. "I’ve not seen sources for the WSJ article, and I’ve heard nothing to back up their opinion that Larry Page is going to decrease resources. My gosh, they’ve only had a few people at Google Health all along! It’s never been a big initiative for Google."

Kibbe correctly points out that the Journal said Google Health will "get less support" not axed.

That didn't stop one former AT&T employee from analyzing the implications of a world without Google Health in a blog post over at the Gerson Lerhman Group, which does not edit or endorse the blogs authored by its large base of loosely affiliated consultants:

"Google Health being dropped is a setback for Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) in three ways: 1) Widespread adoption through cloud access; 2) Time-to-market and payback; and 3) Cross-industry collaboration," Greg Kail writes on the GLG News blog in a post called "Google Drops Health Project". Kail's only listed source is the WSJ post, which makes no mention of Google Health "being dropped." ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley asked Google officials if Kail's blog post was accurate, but a Google spokesperson gave her the standard: “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

HIStalk didn't see the need to confirm the rumor: "If they back out of Google Health, that ought to have a major effect on … well, nobody. PHRs are the consumer versions of EHRs — potentially useful technologies that, rightly or wrongly, aren’t all that attractive to their target audience in their current form."

Chilmark Research's John Moore told eWeek that Google Health competitor Microsoft's HealthVault is focused more on the clinical data side, while Google Health incorporates more consumer wellness tools.

Meanwhile, a group of some of the leading fitness device and app companies are working together to open APIs and share their own data with each other -- knitting together much of the same data that Google Health has promised to host. Wellness services including Zeo, RunKeeper, FitBit, WiThings and Digifit are all sharing data now.

So, while it may be true that rumors of Google Health's demise have been greatly exaggerated -- it may or may not be here in the new Larry Page era -- a better question might be whether the platform ever really needed to exist at all.