Innovation & Insights

Google's Failing Health

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • The failure of Google’s Health program is not all about design.
  • Mistaken assumptions when trying to come up with a solution were also a big part of why this solution didn't work.
  • The real message about the failure of Google Health is that they made a premature assumption about the liquidity of patient data.

Sam Frentzel-Beyme | DC

Earlier this year, I came across Google’s new (relatively) online personal health record (PHR) management system called Google Health. Launched in 2008, the system was setup to help users manually manage their health records. The launch came on the heels of Microsoft’s web-based platform called Microsoft HealthVault started in October 2007. Here's what TechCrunch had to say back in 2008, "It’s been a long time coming, but at first glance it looks like it will be a strong competitor to existing personal health sites such as Microsoft’s HealthVault (which launched last October), Revolution Health, or Aetna’s SmartSource (via a partnership with Healthline). It seems they were a bit off.

As you can see from the screenshot of the service (below), Google Health has to be one of the least inviting interfaces ever designed (and this with a supposed redesign in 2010 that upgraded the “look and feel”). The first time I saw this screen was actually the last time I’ve looked at it until now. In a post-Jobs world, where we now know you should start with the customer first and work backwards to the technology, it’s amazing that some people actually thought this was a product that could generate enough adoption to become a global platform.

But the failure of Google’s Health program is not all about design. Mistaken assumptions when trying to come up with a solution were also a big part of why this solution didn't work. I think Isaac Kohane, the director of the Children’s Hospital Informatics program, said it best in a recent Fast Company:

“The real message about the failure of Google Health is that they made a premature assumption about the liquidity of patient data. They were not able to do their typical small-team conquering of a large universe of data, because that large universe of data was not there.”

It’s interesting that in a time when there are so many well done and relatively open platforms for monitoring and trading stocks, that there still isn’t a common platform that lets each person manage their own health. That kind of begs the question of what factors are preventing this which gets into a much larger discussion.

The other more positive note is that it is great to see a company as big as Google, over 31,000 employees as of September 2011, still focusing on new possibilities and never seeming to forget that failure is a required part of any great success.

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