PHR Model At Turning Point

So,  Google is going through some internal upheaval as co-founder Larry Page prepares to take over the reigns as CEO.  According to an piece appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Page is aggressively reviewing existing projects and is likely to take an axe to those that don’t seem to be working. Does it surprise any of you that one of the programs facing cutbacks may be Google Health and its faltering PHR?

As HIT expert Shahid Shah notes, Google has created some decent PHR technology — but despite having a vast reach and rich resources, hasn’t figured out how to grow its user community.  Even with its massive bank account, I’m not surprised to see that it hasn’t turned healthcare into a major income source. Google just isn’t that great at going outside of its box.

Then, consider that Microsoft doesn’t seem to be pushing Health Vault very hard these days, and you’ve got to wonder whether the whole “massive tech company builds PHR” thing can possibly work.   Yes, I realize I might get flamed by Microsoft execs saying this, but let’s get real here.  Microsoft isn’t great at connecting to markets it doesn’t monopolize either.

Oh the other hand, evidence is mounting that PHRs may be popular when driven by a provider and its own EMR.  Perhaps the highest-profile example of this may be Kaiser Permanente’s EMR/PHR ecosystem.  Its “My Health Manager” PHR system is closely integrated with its Epic EMR installation and now has millions of users.

Why is Kaiser succeeding at generating PHR interest where Google has failed? It’s largely because rather than offering a mixed bag of apps and options, as tech vendors have been doing, My Health Manager allows patients to securely exchange messages with physicians, refill prescriptions, review test results and schedule medical appointments.  Patients aren’t being asked to become updater and curator of their medical information, but rather, to use it. This just makes sense.

As I see it, the whole notion of a PHR as a freestanding app is basically circling the drain.  Realistically, patients have little incentive to interact with their health data unless it has some immediate impact on their lives.  An EMR/PHR combination, on the other hand, has tremendous potential, as it connects patients to both their providers and their health data effectively.  If I were Microsoft or Google, I’d just throw in the towel at this point.