Microsoft Reaps Spoils Of Google Health's Demise

Microsoft and Google are working behind the scenes to let users of the soon-to-be-retired Google Health site transfer electronic personal health records to Microsoft HealthVault.
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Microsoft is set to take the spoils of Google Health's demise. The former online personal health record rivals are working together behind the scenes to help Google Health users easily migrate their personal e-health record data to Microsoft HealthVault's personal health record platform.

The companies plan to announce soon that Google Health users will be able to transfer their health records to new or existing Microsoft HealthVault accounts using the emerging, Direct Protocol open standard for secure health data exchange, said Nate McLemore, Microsoft general manager of business development and policy, Health Solutions Group.

"We're collaborating with Google to make sure there's a place for Google Health users to land," said McLemore in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

Google Health is being "retired" Jan. 1, 2012, but data will be available for download until Jan 1, 2013, said Google Health officials last week in a blog posting that disclosed the company's plans to pull the plug on its 3-year-old PHR services. After January 2013, all remaining Google Health "will be permanently deleted," said Google officials in the blog posting.

Using the Direct Protocol to transfer Google Health records into HealthVault means Google Health users will be able to "email" their health data to themselves, and then upload the information into their HealthVault accounts, said McLemore.

"Direct Protocol will make it easier," he said. Currently, Google Health users essentially need to "cut and paste" records from GoogleHealth to HealthVault, he said.

While the two companies work on a streamlined process for transferring files using the Direct Protocol, Google Health has posted instructions on how to "manually" move health data to HealthVault.

"We're making sure technical connections are possible" for simple and secure transfer of Google Health records, he said. While Microsoft wasn't given official advance notice about Google Health's plan to fold its PHR site, "behind the scenes, Google wanted to make sure users had a place to go," McLemore said.

While Google and Microsoft competed in the PHR space, the departure of Google Health isn't viewed by Microsoft as a big win for HealthVault, at least not yet, said McLemore.

"We won't feel victorious until all patients can get copies of their records electronically," he said.

McLemore would not estimate the number of Google Health users that Microsoft expects to transfer their data to HealthVault, although "we can scale" to support any number of users, he said.

Also, other vendors complying with the Direct Protocol could also allow Google Health users to transfer data to other PHRs, so Healthvault isn't the only PHR platform that's likely to see a boost in users with the departure of Google in that market.

Google hasn't disclosed how many consumers actually signed up for Google Health PHR accounts during the three years the company offered the service.

However, in the blog posting by Aaron Brown, senior product manager Google Health, announcing the phase out of the service, he said," we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would."

Said Brown, "there has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people."

For its part, Microsoft will miss having Google Health around to compete with HealthVault, because Google was another prominent and vocal advocate for the digitization of patient records.

"I think we appreciate all that Google did to advance the cause," said McLemore. "While we competed on many fronts, we all worked towards digitizing paper health records, and trying to drive consumerism forward," he said.

The work by Google "helped bring the industry together faster," he said.

As for Microsoft, it's foothold into the healthcare market has been more solid than Google, mainly because Microsoft's healthcare offering isn't limited to a PHR.

Microsoft positions HealthVault not only as an online PHR for consumers, but also as a PHR platform for third-party application and medical device companies to build upon. There are more than 300 applications that support HealthVault, said McLemore.

While Google also had some partnerships with third parties, including makers of fitness and wellness devices to import data into Google Health accounts, Microsoft's approach toward the health market also has the company selling other software products and services to healthcare providers.

For instance, Microsoft's key offering to healthcare providers is Amalga "unified intelligence system," which helps to bring together disparate data from many sources within a healthcare environment, including clinical, financial, and operational systems. Meanwhile, Microsoft's HealthVault Community Connect offering provides healthcare organizations with a patient and provider portal so that health information can be securely shared with individuals before and after treatment.

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