Google healthcare strategy boasts strengths, weaknesses, industry experts say

The arrival of Google Fit--a health and fitness platform that will compete with Apple's HealthKit and Samsung's SAMI open software platform--is igniting excitement in the mHealth industry, as well as some cautionary reactions. For instance, as FierceMobileHealthcare reported Google's Fit will aggregate data from fitness-tracking devices and health-related apps.

Similarly, as Google's Glass offering already is making headlines thanks to various mHealth pilots and initiatives, including a program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's emergency department, some industry experts remain wary of such efforts due to security issues, data privacy worries and data sharing and protection concerns.

Google's strengths lie within its portfolio of technologies and the sheer pervasiveness of its platforms, health attorney Brad Thompson told FierceMobileHealthcare via email.

"Many medical technologies are built on the same technological platforms as consumer devices and technology from other realms," Thompson, of Epstein Becker Green, said. "If the company is focused on consumer type medical devices, its existing platforms have amazing reach."

Additional strengths, he said, are the company's innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

"[Google's] resources allow it to do things right," he said.

Still, Thompson said, Google as an mHealth entity also has some weak spots, such as its lack of experience in clinical affairs.

"Medicine does not appear to be part of its DNA, and presumably many key decision-makers lack experience in clinical affairs," he said, adding that another weak spot is Google's lack of experience in regulatory affairs.

Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page admitted as much at a recent CEO summit, saying that the tech giant will not likely become a healthcare company.

"The company is not accustomed to working in regulated space," Thompson said. "This is more than just the lack of a technical competence, but rather a cultural challenge."

Meanwhile, Kyle Samani, co-founder and CEO of Pristine, a start-up deploying Google Glass in healthcare, told FierceMobileHealthcare that Google's early mHealth strategy seems to be one of emulation. According to Samani, the search titan clearly has a massive opportunity thanks to the popular Android OS.

"Their early strategy with Google Fit appears to be to copy Apple Health," Samani said via email. "No one ever said emulation was a bad strategy though, and given Google's massive reach through Android, that may be all they need to drive material changes in the mHealth arena."

Samani added that both Apple and Google realize that this is the first step to develop the market clout to drive steps shared data and patient interaction.

"As consumers adopt these technologies and providers become comfortable with the idea, standards and processes will evolve for providers to accept some of the data directly from the patients' smartphones," he said. "Once providers begin accepting data from patients, the next logical step is to send recommendations and goals back to patients."

Driving consumer adoption must be Google's priority in the short term, Samani said. To that end, a big and engaged user base will enable the company to negotiate with standards bodies that drive paradigms of data exchange.

"This is no small feat, and one that Apple has only barely started to crack," Samani said. "Google is notoriously bad at working with a broad array of partners on an ambitious integration project. I doubt they will have as much to show as Apple, as far as provider integration on Day 1.

"However," he said, "I expect a very robust on-device health and healthkit-like interface. Google Fit 1.0 will be a baby step."

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