Google Is Shutting Health Records Service

Google is giving up on its vision of helping people live healthier lives with online personal health records.

When Google Health was introduced in 2008, Marissa Mayer, a Google executive, said it would be a “large ongoing initiative” that the company hoped would attract millions of regular users.

But Google Health never really caught on. In a posting on the company’s blog on Friday, Aaron Brown, senior product manager for Google Health, wrote that the goal was to “translate our successful consumer-centered approach from other domains to health care and have a real impact on the day-to-day health experiences of millions of our users.”

Yet, after three years, Mr. Brown said, “Google Health is not having the broad impact we had hoped it would.”

In the drive to apply information technology to health care, personalized health records are the element that relies most heavily on individual motivation and efforts. They are controlled by the consumer, and require individuals to put in, update and edit their health data. By contrast, the federal government has begun a five-year campaign to accelerate the adoption of electronic patient records by hospitals and doctors, with the incentive payments to physicians topping $40,000.

Personal health records, analysts say, are a new concept to most people, and early users have found them difficult to use. “Personal health records have been a technology in search of a market,” said Lynne A. Dunbrack, an analyst at IDC Health Insights, a research firm.

In a survey earlier this year, IDC Health Insights found that 7 percent of consumers had tried online personal health records, and fewer than half of those continued to use them.

Google is by no means the only company to abandon the field of consumer health records. Revolution Health, for example, retired its personal health record service last year, citing few users.

Suppliers of online personal health records include WebMD, Microsoft, RelayHealth and Dossia. But analysts note that what success these offerings have had has often been in partnership with insurers and health providers, while Dossia is an employer-sponsored personal health record.

Adam Bosworth, a former manager of Google Health, who left in 2007 before the service was introduced, said the service could not overcome the obstacle of requiring people to laboriously put in their own data.

“In the end,” Mr. Bosworth said, “it was an experiment that did not have a compelling consumer proposition.”

The consumer technologies that catch on, he said, inform or entertain users, or enable social communication. Mr. Bosworth said he learned that in his own health information technology company, Keas. The business started in 2009, but switched its approach last November to focus on social games to encourage participation in wellness programs.

Technology companies have often underestimated the complexity of the health field, assuming that fresh ideas and new digital tools will bring quick results, said Dr. David J. Brailer, the national coordinator for health information technology in the Bush administration.

When that does not happen, they pull back, Dr. Brailer said. The Google experience, he said, fit that pattern, and the company had been pulling resources from Google Health for some time.

“For a long while, everybody knew that Google Health was dead, except Google,” said Dr. Brailer, who is the chief executive of Health Evolution Partners, an investment fund.

Google is also shutting down its PowerMeter service, which let consumers track their energy use.

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