Can Google Succeed with Health Apps?

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Search engine giant Google wants back into the healthcare market with its Google Fit mobile platform to collect and analyze data from wearable health apps. But, will it work?

Naveen Rao, a patient and consumer engagement industry analyst at Chilmark Research in Cambridge, Mass., gives an idea of the market forces that will impact Google as it enters the wearable health apps market. For starters, Apple and Samsung sell smartphones and can market their own apps to their customers.

Apple’s recent announcement of its Healthkit initiative got a lot of buzz, Rao notes in comments sent to Health Data Management, “but I’m more interested in how this will interplay with Samsung’s SAMI platform. The ‘vehicles’ for these platforms to go to market are phones and wearables, so while Google may be the best positioned of the three to build a consumer friendly data management platform, it remains to be seen how they can productize it.”

Samsung is the top vendor for Android devices, and they’ve built their own operating system for their Gear products, while Google also has an OS for wearables called Android Wear, Rao adds. In the smartphone market, Apple has about a 40 percent market share with Samsung at about 30 percent. “In terms of platforms however, Apple is again, slightly over 40 percent, while Android is pushing towards 60 percent. This means that Samsung could control about half of the market for deployed Android OS. This all assumes that Apple and Android users are equally interested in using a health tracking platform (or that people are interested in this stuff at all).”

Google will not compete with Apple over users because consumers are either in the Apple or Android camp, Rao explains. “It’s the Google and Samsung platforms that are more fungible. I am guessing that SAMI will come deployed with Samsung phones (or be written into an OS upgrade), while Google will be a downloadable App.

“Getting out of the weeds, the big questions are still the same,” Rao concludes. “Will these vendors operate around a common set of standards, so that data can move across platforms or into health IT systems without a hitch? And what is the real market for this? While we have moved out of the PHR manual-upload era, are the masses really interested in daily heart monitoring?  There will be fans, but to average folks, seniors, and non-fitness buffs, this may still feel like a gimmick.”

Mike Mytych, principal at Health Information Consulting in Menomonee Falls, Wis., is bullish on mobile/wearable apps. Mytych believes the real benefits will be to socialize and teach healthcare consumers that they can manage their health information and be more empowered and benefit in the long run.

“We will never in our lifetime see the absence of a provider-based record, but I do believe that we will see the evolution of the Personal Health Record so that consumers/patients along with their families are empowered to have copies of those records, apps for wellness and health, along with plans that are in place for medications, future care and other considerations,” he says.

Vendors will educate consumers “and then we will see the evolution of what is needed by the consumer for managing health issues, wellness and risk, thus improving patient safety,” Mytych adds. “It won’t be for all, but for those who have complex health issues, it will be very beneficial for themselves and their families.”


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