Google Health beta — What’s really new and different?

From his role as Director of Health IT for the AAFP, co-creator of the CCR and with his involvement behind the “NDA firewall” with the Google Health team, David Kibbe probably has a better vision than most about what’s new and different with Google Health. And he is indeed optimistic.

Much of the discussion about Google Health beta’s recent launch as an online PHR or healthURL seems to me to miss the point about what is really new and different.

Here’s how I see it:

1) Computability. What Google Health does that no other platform is yet capable of doing is to make personal health data both transportable AND computable. Right now, this is the news. By supporting a subset of the Continuity of Care Record (CCR) standard for both inbound and outbound clinical messages, Google Health beta makes it possible for machines to accept, read, and interpret one’s health data.  It is one thing to store health data on the Web as a pdf or Word text file, for example one’s immunizations or lab results, where they can be viewed. It is a giant leap forward to make the data both human and machine readable, so that they can be acted upon in some intelligent way by a remote server, kept up-to-date, and improved upon in terms of accuracy and relevance. That is what the CCR xml subset supported within Google Health beta achieves for the consumer that is really new and different; this is what HealthVault and Dossia are to date missing.

Right now, those web services are only mildly useful and sort of “toyish” — allowing the user to create a meds calendar and get email reminders (ePillBox), or setting up preferences for health and medical news searches (MyDailyApple), or suggesting alternative medications to the ones you now take (SafeMed).

But disruptive innovations are often considered simplistic and compared to toys when they first emerge (remember the first Apple computer?) and there is no stopping these developers and these partner companies from making their services more intelligent, more useful, and more convenient to the consumer. Which brings me to ….

2) Rapid design evolution. Google Health beta has established a robust and growing community of programmers and developers eager to attach their widgets, services, and full-scale apps to the Google Health beta juggernaut.  Most of the public doesn’t see this activity, because it is hidden behind the Google NDA that the developers have to sign, swearing themselves to secrecy about what’s going on at Google Health. But it is an enthusiastic, really smart, and tirelessly innovative group of people who have been attracted to the Google Health platform. They are going to help Google’s engineers rapidly evolve the design of Google Health over the next few months and years, in ways that are completely impossible to predict, depending mainly on how fast Google Health’s operators are willing to move. Design creates value, and value causes infrastructure to change. Modularization of the entire EHR and PHR space may now be possible.

While I recognize that most of the commentary about Google Health beta and Microsoft HealthVault will concentrate on privacy concerns, barriers to data entry, and questions about whether mainstream health data sources will participate or not, I think the disruptive potential has already been unleashed. Watch what happens as the Google Health platform modules and component services grow and start to interact with one another.

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