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Time Capsule: Google Health: Does Anyone Still Care?

July 27, 2012 Time Capsule 1 Comment

I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).

I wrote this piece in September 2007.

Google Health: Does Anyone Still Care?
By Mr. HIStalk

mrhmedium

I like just about everything about Google. I like its products, its offbeat style, its innovative products, and it’s "we’re really just geeks like you" winking acknowledgment of its own cool technology.

Notice I said I like "just about" everything Google. What I’m sick of hearing about is Google Health, whatever it is (if it’s anything at all).

Everybody’s atwitter because the company’s health guy, Adam Bosworth, either quit or got fired last week. Google kept it mighty quiet, not admitting it until a blogger ran the story from a tip. The acknowledgment was terse, so you might well figure that he either got canned or went off to start a competitive business.

Google’s entire health output so far is, well, zero. The company hasn’t even announced anything. Googlers don’t show up at conferences, don’t write white papers, and don’t dazzle us with their usual brilliance. Maybe the company got embarrassed and cleaned house.

Of course, most Googlers are engineers. They are a great asset in solving purely technical problems, like writing search algorithms. Could it be that they’re ill equipped to understand the rat’s nest that is US healthcare, much less do anything to improve it, or even more importantly to shareholders, profit from it?

Everybody assumes Google’s healthcare people have been sequestered while creating a world-beater personal health record. I wasn’t so sure since it seemed like an odd business for them (and everybody else) to be in. Leaked screen shots of a cheesy (not sparsely elegant) prototype weren’t encouraging. This is the best that a $164 billion market cap company could come up with? It looked like one of those "$40 on a USB stick" spare bedroom programmer products that are giving the PHR genre a bad name.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see the company get back to what it knows best: advertising. Google doesn’t know EMRs, PHRs, or HISs, but it knows how to jam context-sensitive ads in your face and get you to click on them. Why would Google want to get into the ugly Vietnam of clinical systems and low-rent PHRs when it could simply find new places to serve up more of those ads that effortlessly bring in billions? Like in front of doctors who have already amply proven to be influenced by obnoxious drug company advertising, for example.

You’ve seen the faltering first steps of ad-powered physician systems, healthcare social networks, and online references. The approaches have been amateurish, but I guarantee somebody will figure out that the real money will be made by giving drug and medical device companies access to prescribers at the point of decision-making. Pay-per-click gets much more valuable when presented in context to free EMR content and patient-specific information. Say, do you really want to order Drug A? Why not try Drug B instead, especially since this patient has renal problems and we’re offering a special price? Click here for our convincing medical references. In fact, we’ll buy your whole office lunch if you’ll just click OK instead of Cancel.

Many big company toes have been dipped into the healthcare waters over the years. Most got drawn back quickly, burned by an industry in which even deeply experienced organizations often fail. Fresh healthcare ideas are a dime a dozen, but the bigger the company, the more ludicrous the results have been.

At this point, I’m past whatever interest I had in Google’s healthcare efforts. They’ve had plenty of time to dazzle me. I don’t care any more. Just stick those AdSense ads in clinical software and let’s move on.

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