Google Health: The future of healthcare is mobile

By Brian Dolan
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Google HealthIn the past few months we have given Google Health a hard time for not bringing more functionality from their PHR onto the mobile platform, indeed, there was a time we noted Google Health's mobile strategy was allowing users to print out a copy of their health information and keep it in their wallet. (Seriously.) After a short interview with Google Health Product Manager Roni Zeiger, however, it's clear that mobile phones, connected devices and mHealth applications will become a crucial part of Google's health plans moving forward. Zeiger hinted at undisclosed mHealth partnerships and better mobile accessibility for Google Health users, and while Zeiger was short on details, we look forward to Google Health's arrival in the mHealth space.

mobihealthnews: In general, what's your take on connected personal health devices -- like wireless-enabled blood glucose monitors -- or mobile health devices. Are these solutions looking for a problem or do they really have value?

Zeiger: I think that mobile devices in the world of healthcare, including consumer healthcare, will actually play a central role. So to answer your question directly, they will absolutely play an important part in the future of this space.

mobihealthnews: Many of these connected devices or mobile applications have their own online portals. My first question for them is why not partner with HealthVault or Google Health -- users aren't going to want to have to log into a number of different portals. That gets to the PHR as "platform". Microsoft has said outright that HealthVault is not a PHR, it's a platform. What about Google Health?

Zeiger: Absolutely, so Google Health is a platform without a doubt. We have a well-documented and easy to use API. We also have a user facing application that sits on top of that platform. A key part of the value of Google Health is that users can not only use the application, but also connect the application to a variety of other sources, whether importing data from a hospital, pharmacy, lab company or sharing with a family member or even connecting with a service like the Heart Attack Risk Calculator from the American Heart Association. All of those iterations are possible because Google Health is, indeed, a platform.

mobihealthnews: Right, so the portability of the data seems to be the key theme  for Google Health -- but if it's portable, then why not make it mobile? Why hasn't there been a push on Google's part to really mobilize this data and make it easily accessible from mobile phones. I know one partner, Anvita Health, has made Google Health viewable from Android phones, and there is at least one independent iPhone developer who made a Google Health reader for that phone, but again, that's just a reader. Why hasn't Google Health stepped in yet to make a mobile application?

Zeiger: So, you probably already know this, but we are very shy about announcing anything before its release, but it's certainly clear that for consumer health applications like Google Health that being able to use them wherever you are -- obviously, including mobile devices -- is critical. And we are certainly going to make that happen.

mobihealthnews: Is there any explanation as to why it hasn't happened yet? Is making a mobile app a slower process in this case because we're talking about health data?

Zeiger: I don't think I have a thoughtful answer for you there.

mobihealthnews: OK, fair enough. Anvita Health is already a Google Health partner for some of the service's backend analytics. So, was Anvita Health's Google Health viewer for the iPhone an application that Google worked on, too or was that also an independent effort?

Zeiger: We discussed it with them. They came to us with the idea and we supported it so they used our API to make it happen. I think it went relatively well.

mobihealthnews: Does Google Health have any other partnerships that we haven't discussed that have a mobile focus?

Zeiger: Well, of course, we don't talk about any partnerships that haven't gone public yet, but the one you should be aware of is IBM. A couple months ago IBM did a demonstration where they connected a glucometer to Google Health using the Continua [Health Alliance] standard. The Continua Health Alliance is something that we explicitly support, it is a set of standards for mobile health devices so that any device or system with which those devices wish to connect can do so using the same semantics. We think that that is a key part to the future so that, as you mentioned, there will be fewer custom, one-off solutions, which are sometimes expensive to create. Instead, the broader community will be using a more consistent set of technologies so that all of these devices and systems can more easily communicate with each other if their users wish them to.

mobihealthnews: So, for the IBM partnership, it's more about connected devices than mobile phones?

Zeiger: That's correct. I think it's interesting to think of mobile phones as playing either the role of the device or the role of the Web-enabled computer or both.

mobihealthnews: Or as the conduit between the two, like a modem in your pocket?

Zeiger: That's right.

mobihealthnews: So finally, and I think you may have covered this in your response to my first question, but in the past few years Google's top executives have said that "the future of the Internet is mobile" and that "the future of advertising is mobile". Do you think the future of healthcare is mobile?

Zeiger: Yes, I do.

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