Google Health’s Exit Plans Announced

When Google Health was launched, it was largely expected that such a user-friendly service from Google would have unprecedented success. Google Health allowed people to have access to their medical and personal health information in an undemanding format. Even Google’s officials had stated that their purpose of coming forth with Google Health was primarily to translate the brand’s popular consumer-centric approach to the next level and enter a new domain, i.e. healthcare. The idea was to help Google users in keeping a tab on how their personal health information was being used. However, it seems that Google Health wasn't able to create the kind of impact it had assumed it would—Google’s officials have indicated that all existing users of Google Health should start retrieving their data before the deadline set at January 1, 2013.

Ensuring that its user-friendly image is not tarnished in any way, Google has ensured that the exit process for existing users of Google Health is easy. For instance, Google Health users will have the option of directly transferring their health data to data storage formats of other services providers that are using the Direct Project protocol. This is rather impressive since this protocol is increasingly emerging as the most sought after open standard format, particularly in the niche of health-data sharing.

The process of retrieving one's health information too has been made rather straightforward. The only thing Google Health users would need to do is download their information, choosing any of the several formats on offer. This data can be then printed or saved on the PC and later transferred to any other healthcare industry data format that the user might want to use.

The available formats for retrieving personal data from Google Health include:

  • PDF files—this includes the entire information saved as personal, Google Health Profile
  • CCR or Continuity of Care Record XML files—these can be imported directly to other, health data tools like Microsoft's HealthVault
  • CSV or comma-separated value files—one of the simplest formats where data can be imported to spreadsheets, making it easier for tracking any data later or for creating comparison graphs
  • HTML or XML files of the Data Notices that are present in Google Health Profile
  • Unified ZIP archives that seamlessly import all the files a Google Health user has uploaded on his personal profile

There have been mixed reactions to this somewhat sudden end to Google Health services. While some industry experts said that this was expected, many believe that Google might have reacted to the initial lack of enthusiasm for its services a bit too prematurely. In all probability, Google Health services will be officially discontinued from 2012 but the download options, i.e. for retrieving personal/healthcare data, would be kept alive for at least another year, ensuring that none of the users face risk of losing their personal information. This approach by Google has garnered some degree of appreciation since it underlines Google’s commitment towards providing unquestioned access to its users when it comes to handling their personal data.

The initiative behind Google Health is quite understandable since the use of technology to make healthcare information more people-centric has been on the agenda for many years now. The ability to upload and save personalized health records on Google Health meant immediate and risk-free access to such information without depending upon any software vendors. This facility was deemed to popularize the concept of being 'individually responsible' for one’s Personal Health Records. Thus, it seems a bit strange that one of the most user-focused service providers, i.e. Google, is on the verge of being wrapped-up. However, this isn't the first case of a provider offering similar services exiting from the consumer health record niche. Other technology providers like Revolution Health too exited this segment last year, citing lack of sufficient user volumes.

Most industry observers opine that Google Health's exit might be short-lived, i.e. in about five years when stage 2-3 of Meaningful Use of patient data are implemented and there is a greater understanding of the need to securely save and index healthcare information, Google Health might make a comeback!