The Personal Health Record is Dead. Long Live the Personal Health Record.
We are generating increasingly large amounts of electronic health information. Runs tracked using GPS, blood glucose on our smart phones, sleep tracked using a headband, your hospital records in an Electronic Medical Record, etc. It seems obvious that all of this information should end up stored in one place and accessible to whomever you choose to give access to. And all of this data needs to be connected to various services that make use of it. Upon this premise the Personal Health Record was built. Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health are the two most notable contenders - and most people use one or the other to store their health data. Wait. What? Actually – NO ONE uses Google Health. Or Microsoft Healthvault. Or any other PHR. What gives?
People ARE tracking their health and generating enormous amounts of data. But they are NOT using PHRs. I spoke with a very well known provider of athletic services (data analysis, coaching programs, etc.) this week who had integrated his product with Microsoft Healthvault. They jumped through numerous hoops to get their service linked up – all for a less than 100 users who linked accounts. I personally have both a Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault account. I use neither. Why?
Chicken and Egg
A Personal Health Record needs three key components to be successful.
- Data – Automated data entry – health records, fitness metrics, weight, sleep, etc.
- Services – Data is no good by itself – it needs to be connected with smart analytics, advice engines, content, community, doctors, etc.
- Customers – Someone must be using all this stuff together.
All three must be present for a healthy ecosystem – and a classic chicken and egg situation emerges. It can be hard to get initial traction. No one will build services without data streams and customers. Device manufacturers don’t bother to hook up to take advantage of no customers and services. We aren’t there yet – of the three the data sources are the most connected – with services and especially customers lagging.
Skip the middleman
In new industries ‘compatibility’ with other solutions doesn’t matter. There is nothing to be compatible with. One must create the entire customer experience from soup to nuts. Hence the first Ford cars had most of it’s parts made by Ford. As industries grow and mature different companies find their niche and begin specializing. Nowadays your Ford car has parts from thousands of independent suppliers – Ford tied it all together for you.
We are in the early days for digital health services. For the most part – today – if you want to offer a solution to a customer you need to build the WHOLE product out. A good example is Zeo. When we started designing the product years ago it became clear that we needed to cover the whole value chain from sensor -> electronics -> data analysis -> coaching.
In a more mature ecosystem companies have a choice – they can specialize. Consumers can mix and match hardware, software, and services. In this more mature ecosystem there is definitely a place for a central data store/PHR.
What happens now?
In the short-term devices will begin to open up, services will begin to emerge to take advantage of these open platforms, and customers will connect their individual devices to individual services and make use of both. This will work well for quite some time. Then – eventually – things will start to become unwieldy. Two or three data sources and a handful of services will turn into a dozen data sources and a dozen services. And the PHR will be there – ready to tie things together.
The PHR is dead. Long live the PHR.