Is Google poised to take on health -- again?

By Scott Rotermund

This week, Google Fit made its debut at the Google I/O conference – joining Apple and Samsung as another tech giant entering into overwhelming healthcare.

HealthKit, Google Fit and Simband are all great advancements in technology to capture consumers’ health data but they are all missing the mark in what the healthcare industry truly needs in order to thrive and move out of a “sickcare” system.

Welltok’s Co-founder & Chief Growth Officer, Scott Rotermund shares his thoughts with mhealthnews on Google’s latest attempt to enter into the healthcare market.

Are they poised to cure what ails the healthcare system or missing the mark?

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There’s been trending consumer news in the healthcare marketplace, especially around the recent Google I/O Conference and the launch of Google Fit. Many are now talking about a broader trend – the move by mobile tech giants to enter the healthcare arena.

It’s exciting to see technology companies begin to dip their toes in the healthcare waters and cause a few ripples. Healthcare could use some disruption right now, in the form of applying best practices from other industries – for example, why does my smartphone get better treatment at the Apple Genius bar than I do at an urgent clinic?

These powerhouses are welcomed in healthcare, but need to recognize it’s not a home game and they don’t have the advantage.

One of the key areas in which both Google Fit and HealthKit miss the mark is the fact that they’re focused more on sucking in all the wearable data vs. understanding the healthcare system and need for incentives to drive true consumer change. They are, rightfully, focusing on what they know – devices and apps – but relying solely on the consumers to take action. How do you move past being the shiny new toy and a novelty to changing behaviors? And how do you move beyond the early adopters and quantified self-fanatics to someone who has a condition, like COPD, that could be better managed through the smart use of technology vs. multiple, costly trips to the ER? We need look no further than current discussions in relation to long-term FitBit adoption and utilization to give even the most successful companies pause when it comes to attempting true consumer engagement in healthcare.

Let me be clear: We agree that there is great power and potential in tapping into mobile and wearable technology, and the data they provide will undoubtedly improve quality of care while also reducing costs. Still, data in and of itself is not the cure for all that ails today’s sick-care system. As Joseph Kvedar, MD, from the Center for Connected Health, recently stated, “People don’t feel compelled to take ownership of their health data.” What we really need from Google Fit and HealthKit is an integrated approach that not only collects data, but also meshes with the current healthcare ecosystem. The digital consumer health ecosystem needs to be more closely tied to health benefits rather than working in isolation. Population health managers – health plans, health systems and exchanges – are at the top of the food chain and the ones who are in the strongest position to turn potential fads into integrated healthcare tools. In order to truly compel consumers to take charge of their health, each player within the ecosystem – including providers, payers and consumers themselves – must collaborate in unison for the long term. This is something that only industry insiders truly grasp and could bring together in today’s healthcare marketplace.

In addition to connecting consumer data to the healthcare ecosystem, Google Fit and HealthKit must consider how to motivate consumers to share their data for the long term. They must also address privacy and security issues (but that topic is worthy of its own blog post). From a motivation perspective, it remains unclear to me whether Google Fit and HealthKit have considered how to incite consumers to make smarter decisions when it comes their health and well-being.

As experts in incentive-driven healthcare, we recognized early on that well designed incentive programs and strategies are critical to increasing consumer engagement and reducing costs. Most importantly, aligning actions and behaviors with specific rewards is one of the only proven ways to get consumers fully engaged in optimizing their health.

It’s both a tumultuous and exhilarating time in healthcare right now. As the industry moves from focusing on sick-care to optimizing consumer health, technology will undoubtedly play a leading role. In the excitement, we must remind ourselves that people are not merely a set of data points – they’re living beings with complex minds. And in order to change their behaviors, it will take more than just technology – it will take science and an understanding that in order to truly motivate consumers to become active participants in optimizing their health, we must create a collaborative ecosystem and reward them – literally and figuratively – for taking steps to change.

The original article appeared on mhealthnews in June 2014.