Recently, I’ve met with several internet startups, web thought leaders, and venture capitalists.
There’s one word that’s come up in every conversation and it’s not Plastics. It’s Gamification.
Gamification, described by Wikipedia is applying gaming principles to non-gaming applications and processes,
“in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, by helping to solve problems and not being a distraction, and by taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.”
In a piece just posted at TheAtlantic.com, I discuss what I see as the next great quest in applied science: the assembly of a unified health database, a “big data” project that would collect in one searchable repository all the parameters that measure or could conceivably reflect human well-being.
I don’t expect the insights gained from these data will obsolete physicians, but rather empower them (as well as patients and other stakeholders) and make them better, informing their clinical judgment without supplanting their empathy.
I also discuss how many companies and academic researchers are focusing their efforts on defined subsets of the information challenge, generally at the intersection of data domains. I observe that one notable exception seems to be big pharma, as many large drug companies seem to have decided that hefty big data analytics is a service to be outsourced, rather than a core competency to be built. I then ask whether this is savvy judgment or a profound miscalculation, and suggest that if you were going to create the health solutions provider of the future, arguably your first move would be to recruit a cutting-edge analytics team.
The question of core competencies is more than just semantics – it is perhaps the most important strategic question facing biopharma companies as they peer into a frightening and uncertain future.
If you’re a hammer, you just want to smash nails; if you’re a programmer, you just want to build features. But features do not a successful product make. This is the central myopia that eventually blinds even the most brilliant engineer-entrepreneurs, unless they’re smart enough to surround themselves with people who can check their bias.
If you want an interesting example of this phenomenon, look no further than Adam Bosworth, the co-founder and chief technology officer at San Francisco-based health gamification startup Keas. There’s no question about this guy’s brilliance. At Citicorp in the late 1970s, he invented an analytical processing system that helped the bank predict changes in inflation and exchange rates. At Borland, he built the Quattro spreadsheet, and at Microsoft, he built the Access database. He was one of the first to propose standards for XML—the foundation of most Web services today. At Google, he helped to develop Google Docs before moving on to start Google Health.
But as everyone knows, Google Health was a failure—and so was Bosworth’s next effort, Keas, at least until the venture-backed startup went through a dramatic pivot in 2010. How Bosworth figured out that his old approach wasn’t working, and how Keas reinvented itself as a provider of health-focused games for large employers, is the tale I want to tell you today.
PHRs are much like the tides, news about them ebbs and flows. Right now, with the relatively recent demise of Google Health, Dossia’s attempts at rebirth, and the significant inquiries we are receiving regarding meaningful use requirements to host a PHR (patient portal). But in and amongst all this Chilmark has heard on more than one occasion the following statement: “The problem with PHRs is that they are a technology in search of a market.”
This statement is simply wrong for the following reasons:
1) As we have said countless times before in previous posts, very few people are interested in a digital filing cabinet for their health records. Unfortunately, many PHRs in the market today are just that, digital filing cabinets. In this case it is not an issue of a technology in search of a market, it is just a bad product that really has no market.
2) Technology adoption does not occur for its own sake, it occurs when there is perceived value by the user that leads to adoption. PHRs, PHPs (personal health platforms), patient portals, etc., is certainly a technology, that when well-designed, and implemented can deliver significant value and subsequently see high adoption rates. Just look to Kaiser-Permanente’s instance of MyChart, where patient adoption is well over 40%. Up in the Pacific Northwest, the Group Health Collaborative (GHC) is seeing PHR adoption that is well over 50%. That’s a market!
Now that Google has put its ill-fated Google Health project to rest, we are wondering who will make the next big attempt to establish a personal health record (PHR) platform for healthy people. Many have tried and many have failed, and there is still no popular platform for gathering, analyzing and sharing health data.
Adam Bosworth founded Google Health in 2006 to provide an online place for consumers to store their own health data. Bosworth left shortly thereafter and went on to found Keas, a SF-based web startup which takes a more social approach to tracking one’s health via a competitive point system. In a recent interview on TechCrunch, Bosworth spoke about why he thought Google Health had failed, “It’s not social,” and “Google didn’t push to see what they could do that people would want.”
Google Health failed in part because the user interface did not motivate most users to upload their health data. By contrast, one of the fastest-growing health sites on the internet, PatientsLikeMe.com, has built its online health community to an impressive 105,000 subscribers, focused first on patients suffering from chronic diseases like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The implied reward for this was high given the unmet health need, so it was an easy choice for patients to take the time to enter their valuable data. Healthy people have no such incentive for using PatientsLikeMe, but many seem to want to get in on the action. Armed with smartphones and social network memberships, a new health-savvy generation is looking to catalyze the growth of a new movement.
A little over a week ago Google stated that it was putting a stake through the heart of their personal health platform (PHP) Google Health. We at Chilmark had been expecting this for some time, it was just a manner of when it would become official. Thus, we were somewhat taken aback by all the publicity surrounding this final chapter with our own post on the topic receiving well over 40 comments and link-backs (that may be a record – thanks everyone for contributing to the story). With the closing of Google Health, we postulated in that post that Microsoft really had no other worthy competitor that will challenge them to continuously make enhancements to HealthVault. We may have spoken prematurely.
Stepping in to take the place of Google, is none other than an ol’school EHR company (and one of the largest), Cerner, who provided their own commentaryon the demise of Google Health and their future intentions. Last week we had the opportunity to talk with the Cerner Health and learn more about those intentions but before getting to that, some quick background.
Taking a different tack:
Cerner has been in the HIT business now for 31+ years having grown to one of the leading EHR vendors in the market. You’ll usually find their systems (EHR: Millenium) in large healthcare organizations. This sector of the EHR market is seeing fierce competition as Epic seems to pick up one win after another at the expense of others, including Cerner. While continuing to go head-to-head with Epic, it appears that Cerner has also chosen to take a different tack, adopting a philosophy of: if you can’t beat them straight up, change the rules of the game.
This is another in the numerous “death of Google Health” stories that have been appearing since Friday when the Google blog announced the pulling of the plug. I must admit to being more than a little pissed off with Larry Page or whomever it was within Google that made the decision. After all, Google Health was only introduced a tad more than 3 years ago (premiered at HIMSS in Feb 2008; launched officially later that year). And just nine months ago they hired a new product manager and debuted some interesting new features connecting to the new wave of personal sensors. I know that Wall Street has been telling Google to focus on fewer products and that Page as new CEO has decided to do that but for a company as rich as Google the effort involved in keeping Google Health alive would be trivial. And props here to our friends at Microsoft who are integrating HealthVault into their wider health care business.
The sunsetting of Google Health has meant an outpouring of articles from the factual (Deb Linton at Health 2.0 News), to the historical (John Moore at Chilmark) to the winners/losers assessment (Fred Trotter) to the mega-quotes including mine (Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb). There’s also been a steady stream of both sad and (sadly) happy people commenting on the Society for Participatory Medicine listserv, and Mr HISTalk was his cynical self–basically saying that tech know-nothings should stay out of our complicated health care business. He’s wrong and now Google is wrong, and here’s why.
With the very notable exception of HealthVault and (hopefully) some new innovation from Dossia, we are now dependent on a number of small companies to maintain the emerging data utility layer. The data utility layer in health is the place that is going to collectively store all the data that is being generated. Apparently Google didn’t have the real patience for two rapid developments.
First, with a combination of the Direct Project and the stipulation in the meaningful use regulations that EHR users share data with other providers and with patients, individuals are going to find that more and more data about themselves is available and easily accessible. Whether or not it’s a Farmville-type hit, the ability to capture all that information in one place is very important. Currently it’s also very time consuming to put together so very few people do it. But I do know of instances where people have laboriously entered lab values into Google Health just to store them. Sooner rather than later that data will be available much more easily in machine readable format, and as those barriers to use fall so the desire to look at that data will increase.
So the rumors are true and Google Health is being sunsetted. I’ll have more to say about this soon, but as someone who has a lot of data in Google Health and who doesn’t really want to move it anywhere else–even though I don’t go in and look at it that often–I think that that answer might be to have some open source co-operative take it over. That was the original idea behind Dossia and there’s a budding open source community in health care that might be able to do something similar. In fact the biggest and most successful EMR (VISTA) was built by such a method (albeit within the VA). This is just a thought at the moment, but part of the issue is that we need to connect data from the health care system with data from the consumer device ecosystem without being beholden to either (especially the former). It is though ironic the Google Health is throwing in the towel when data liberacion, including the very successful Blue Button, and suggestions of open APIs from health care tech vendors, are just starting to come true. But perhaps there’s a way to get a Billy Crystal in the room and resurrect it from its planned end.
About a year ago we posted a piece that basically summed up Google Health as on its death bed. Google, of course was quick to defend itself saying that Google Health was very much alive and well. We even had a long conversation with the senior leadership of Google Health who told us they were taking Google Health in a new direction, had been doing a significant rebuild of the underlying architecture which culminated in a “new” Google Health which had far greater focus on health and wellness. They even went so far, in very uncharacteristic fashion to give adoption numbers. Granted, those adoption numbers were only those from users of the Android App CardioNet, but hey, it was something.
Beginning in late March 2011, we started hearing the rumors of the impending demise of Google Health once again (is this becoming some sort of annual thing with Google Health?). We waited a few weeks to see if the rumors would die down, they did not. We put a call into Google Health to set up a briefing, get an update. Response back was slow (one yellow flag). When they did get back to us, they said it will be at least a couple of weeks (two yellow flags). Next, our Google contact told us by email that they were going to hand Chilmark’s inquiry off to Google’s PR department (screaming dark orange flag). And now today, we received an email from one of Google Health’s most visible spokespersons, Missy Krasner that she is leaving Google.
There is now no doubt in our mind that the Google Health development team has been dis-banded and Google Health has been placed in a cryogenic state until the moribund consumer adoption of such tools comes to life. It would be far to big a PR nightmare for Google to completely pull the plug on Google Health as they have done in the past with other less then stellar launches. No, they’ll put an engineer or two on Google Health to keep it up and running but don’t expect anything new out of Google Health for at least the next 5 years. This baby is frozen.
John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.
Seems like everybody on the web (or at least in our little Healthcare corner of it) has an opinion on the news that Google Health is shutting down. Just in case you’re thinking about sending me the link — yes, I’ve heard. 🙂
First off — sincere thanks to Aaron, Adam, Missy, Paul, Marc, Crutcher, Alan, Eric, Alfred, and all the others over at Google who built a great service and fought hard for the idea that the only way to really fix healthcare is to consumerize it. There will continue to be plenty of short-term debates about privacy, data ownership, standards, etc., but ultimately it’s inevitable — we’ll get there, and Google Health moved the ball forward.
Second — what does this mean for HealthVault? The “buzz” online ranges wildly, but the real and simple answer is: nothing. As I said a few months ago, HealthVault is a key piece of our overall approach:
HealthVault is a critical component in our broader project strategy — which is to (1) connect care across the ecosystem, from the home to the clinic to the hospital to the research lab, and (2) do so in a way that includes and encourages innovation from as many different organizations as possible.
Solving only the consumer side isn’t enough — that’s why we have Microsoft Amalga on the enterprise side. Our two platforms combine to enable the transformative all-up story: enabling clinical integrations like mynyp.org and MedPlus, home monitoring programs with Kaiser, CCF and UMass, and so on.Continue reading…