Should government be worried? Google drops e-health, energy services.

Google is pulling the plug on two projects, Google Health and PowerMeter, that mirror government initiatives. The main reason: not enough people were interested in using them.

The administration could face an uphill battle on health IT and energy-use initiatives if Google’s recent experience in those areas serves as a bellwether.

Google will pull the plug on Google Health, which gives people a central repository for their health care information, and Google PowerMeter, which gives people access to data on their energy use, the company announced in a blog post June 24. The main reason: not enough people were interested in using the services.

Google Health, launched in 2008, had caught on with “tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts,” but then hit a wall, the company’s post said. “We haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.”

PowerMeter is an effort to give people information about their energy use, with the goal of encouraging them to use less. Google cited studies showing that people with access to that information reduce their energy use by as much as 15 percent. But despite the adoption of things such as smart meters in some areas and the Obama administration’s plans for a smart energy grid, “our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would like, so we are retiring the service,” the blog states.

Google isn’t turning off the services right away. Google Health will stay in operation until January 2012, and people who use the service will be able to retrieve their data until January 2013, after which the data will be deleted, Google said. PowerMeter will go dark Sept. 16.

The government, under a couple of administrations, has pushed health IT programs as a way to better share health records; ensure doctors have accurate, up-to-date information on patients; and, as a result, improve care.

But adoption — by both providers and patients — has been slow.  Health care providers in some cases have balked at the expense of installing new records systems, and patients have been reluctant, partly because of security concerns

Security also has been a concern with plans for a networked electrical grid that would more efficiently distribute power but could also, some experts say, make the nation’s critical infrastructure a more attractive target for enemies.

Both initiatives offer tangible benefits, but both require significant start-up efforts by users and providers, which could hinder their adoption.

Google, of course, is a business and is free to drop any project that isn’t paying off. And maybe it’s just that Google Health and PowerMeter were a little ahead of their time.

But if those projects turn out to be canaries in the e-health and smart-grid coal mines, government proponents might have to come up with a new way to sell the ideas.

 

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