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Microsoft HealthVault is a Serious Business Strategy. Will Google Health Become More than a Hobby?

Google Health…please stick around….but please also get your stuff together.

Over the past few days, several of my respected colleagues have written excellent blog posts essentially asking “Does Google Health have life?”

I share their observations and sentiments.  I see Microsoft HealthVault as a serious business strategy while Google Health is more like a hobby (one of probably hundreds at Google).

Are there reasons Google should stick around healthcare? Absolutely!  Off the top of my head, I can think of five:

  1. Google brings unique competencies to health care information seeking.
  2. Google Health is doing a good job on a shoestring budget.
  3. Healthcare is ripe for disruptive innovation.
  4. Microsoft needs competition.
  5. Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health are more complementary than competitive.

Let’s take these one at a time.

1) Google brings unique competencies to health care information seeking. What is Google doing in health care? To many people, the answer isn’t initially intuitively obvious.

But think about it for a minute.

Google’s core competency is search. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

What are people looking for when they go online to search health topics? While today we understand that we are going to find primarily generic information, technology offers the promise of personalized information tailored to our medical history, preferences, level of health literacy, and many other variables.

I understand that many will see this capability as “Big Brother Google” and others as “Dr. Google”. Let’s save these discussions for another day.

Patients want personalized health information, and the Google Health database is a repository of patient information. The marriage of search capabilities and health care is a great fit.

2) Google Health is doing a good job on a shoestring budget. Microsoft has put substantially more resources and effort into its healthcare initiatives. Scott Shreeve estimates that Microsoft has 1000 people working in healthcare and Google has around 10. While my personal guestimate for Google would have been more like 20 people, the conclusion doesn’t change.

With minimal resources, the Google Health team has created a solid foundation. The folks at usercentric even gave Google Health the edge, stating “participants preferred Google Health over Microsoft HealthVault on the whole, mainly due to Google Health’s greater ease of use.”

3) Healthcare is ripe for disruptive innovation. As a high level observation, the U.S. spends 80% more per capita on health care than the median among developed nations, yet our outcomes are average or below.  Federal Government policy in spending $34 B of stimulus funds on the HITECH Act is a strong message directing development of an interoperable Nationwide Health Information Network. We need innovative companies like Google and Microsoft to support modernizing our health care technology infrastructure.

4) Microsoft needs competition.  ‘nuff said.

5) Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health are more complementary than competitive. To date, Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault both have been good citizens in avoiding a standards war and in agreeing to adopt broadly accepted, non-proprietary data standards.  They have recognized that the competition is “paper”, not each other — that the common goal is to drag the U.S. health care system into the 20th Century in broadly adopting information and communication technologies.

The size of the network that Google and Microsoft collectively are working on building to build is HUGE — there are millions of nodes (patients, doctors, hospitals, labs, imaging centers, pharmacies, you name it…).

While there will be overlap and duplication, I expect that the Google HealthVault and Microsoft HealthVault are more likely to evolve as highly complementary, rather than competitive. This is simply because of the effort involved in getting the U.S. health care system onto a network. For example, I could foresee that one or the other focuses more on B2B vs. B2C, specialized industry segments, varying regional concentrations, etc.


So, are there reasons for Google to stick around?  Yes!  

Google, please stick around…and please get serious.

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On August 10th, 2009 at 1:02 pm, Bill Crounse, MD said:


Well stated. I think many would be surprised that even folks at Microsoft hope Google will stay in the game. Competition is good, and healthcare is so big that no one company can do it all.

Bill Crounse, MD

On August 10th, 2009 at 4:57 pm, Vince Kuraitis said:

Bill, thanks for your comment and for acknowledgement of reality :) from Microsoft POV. U.S. healthcare system is not an 800 lb gorilla — it’s a 800 ton gorilla, and quite a match for both GOOG and MSFT.


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