On June 24, 2011 Steve Lohr reported in The New York Times that Google is ending its three year initiative into the world of online storing by consumers of personal health records. Google Health had promoted this as a significant application of its “cloud computing” platform.
A visit to the Google Health Web site reveals the following statement:
An Important Update about Google Health
Google Health will be discontinued as a service.
The product will continue service through January 1, 2012.
After this date, you will no longer be able to view, enter or edit data stored in Google Health. You will be able to download the data you stored in Google Health, in a number of useful formats, through January 1, 2013.
The Lohr article quotes a blog posting of Aaron Brown, senior product manager for Google Health, to which the Google Health Web site also directs readers. Mr. Brown states that the goal of Google was to “translate our successful consumer-centered approach from other domains to health care and have a real impact on the day-to-day health experiences of millions of our users.” However, Mr. Brown admitted in his blog post, “Google Health is not having the broad impact we had hoped it would.”
Mr. Lohr points out, “Google is by no means the only company to abandon the field of consumer health records. Revolution Health, for example, retired its personal health record service last year, citing few users.” He also quoted others who attributed the lack of users to a variety of causes, including heavy and continuous demands on the time of consumers to maintain current, accurate and complete online health records, loss of consumer appetite to other more appealing computer applications, the complexity of the health field, and greater success of online health records when providers or insurers are partnering in the process.
A significant reason for the lack of attraction to Google Health that was not mentioned in the Times article may be the reasonable uneasiness that consumers have about privacy and security of their personal health information (“PHI”). In April 2010, a posting was entered on our blog series entitled, “Does the Reported Massive Theft of Password Information at Google Undermine Confidence in the Privacy and Security of Google Health.” That posting addressed PHI privacy and security problems experienced by Google Health at that time. Specifically, according to a Times article by John Markoff, Google Health suffered a breach of the password system that controlled access by millions of users worldwide to almost all of the company’s Web services, including email and business applications.
Thus the conclusion of our April 2010 posting may have been another significant reason for the termination of the Google Health experiment in online personal health records:
If the reported security breach at Google is as broad and comprehensive as reported, a subscriber to Google Health is not as in control of his or her PHI as the Google [Health Privacy] Policy may lead one to believe. . . . The potential damage to subscribers is catastrophic and perhaps should be the subject of investigation for potential regulation.