Despite outlining ambitious goals when it launched, Google has closed Google Health, its stand-alone health division, according to an internal memo obtained by Business Insider and confirmed by Google—but the company says it still plans to continue its numerous health initiatives.
Google Health was created in 2018 to consolidate the company's health projects. The division was led by David Feinberg, who was previously CEO of Geisinger Health.
Several ambitious projects were included under Google Health, such as Google Brain, focused on deep learning; Google Fit, dedicated to wearables; and Nest, a home automation brand. The division had several goals, including storing and analyzing health care data, developing consumer-focused health products, and building algorithms to help patients diagnose various clinical symptoms.
Overall, however, Google Health struggled to organize a road map for its projects and faced outside scrutiny of some of its partnerships, Forbes reports. For instance, according to Forbes, a partnership between Google and Ascension raised concerns about privacy from the U.S. Senate. And, despite promises of increased collaboration between the company's several health care businesses—such Alphabet's Verily and Google Cloud—many of those groups continued to focus on independent health care projects instead.
According to an internal memo obtained by Business Insider, Google Health is now shutting down after three years, with Fienberg exiting the division to serve as president and CEO at Cerner.
According to Modern Healthcare, this is Google's second foray into health care that has folded. The first, which was also named Google Health, was a personal health record service that shut down in 2012 after four years.
While Google Health will no longer be a stand-alone division, all the company's health initiatives will continue, Business Insider reports—and, according to a Google spokesperson, the "Google Health" name will continue.
Specifically, according to a Google spokesperson, most of the projects and teams under Google Health will remain unchanged, primarily situated within the company's research division; the spokesperson said there would be no layoffs. Google Health's central business development team will be redistributed to different areas of the company to support a variety of health care projects. (In addition, the Mayo Clinic will maintain its cloud storage and innovation arrangement with Google.)
According to Business Insider, this approach will allow Google to integrate health care into its current business ventures instead of trying to run a separate business.
Already, according to Business Insider, some Google Health employees have been moved into other divisions within the company. For instance, back in June, more than 130 Google Health employees were moved into the Fitbit and Search divisions of the company during a major reorganization.
Regarding the decision to close Google Health, a company spokesperson said, "Google deeply believes in the power of technology to improve health and wellness and we have increased our health investments across the company. This has included developing projects within Google Health, launching and expanding health-related features on Search, Maps and YouTube that reach billions of people, and welcoming Fitbit."
The spokesperson added, "Today, health is a growing, company-wide effort and the Google Health name will continue and encompass our projects that share the common purpose to improve global health outcomes."
Separately, Glen Tullman, CEO of Transcarent, told Business Insider that "big tech" has historically struggled in health care because patients' problems are more about the overall experience than technology.
"People have said Big Tech is coming to health care for years. It's not," he said, adding that—in his opinion, the "consumer-experience giants" such as Amazon, Walmart, and their partners, are the ones that could disrupt the industry. (Langley/Dodge, Business Insider, 8/20; Cohen, Modern Healthcare, 8/20, Moreno, Forbes, 8/21; Landi, Fierce Healthcare, 8/23)
The dismantling of Google Health isn’t a sign that Google’s health care initiatives are failing nor a sign that Google plans to eventually exit the health care space. Rather, the end of Google Health signals a reorganization of Google’s health care portfolio—one the makes sense considering its fragmented history.
The products that fell under the Google Health umbrella had very little in common with one another, with products ranging from consumer-facing solutions to AI-enabled clinical solutions. Many products had different goals and different end users. Google has always had a “de-constructed” approach to health care, with the totality of their offerings creating the appearance of an end-to-end portfolio, but with no real effort to integrate disparate assets like Fitbit, Google’s search and AI functions, and Google’s investment in virtual care provider Amwell. The end of Google Health allows leaders to put their time and energy towards the growth of individual products rather than towards the challenge of trying to make them fit together.
This is similar to what we’ve seen with other big tech players who have taken a step back from the health care space. Just as Haven’s end allowed Amazon, Berkshire, and JPMorgan to focus on their own respective health care projects, the dismantling of Google Health allows Google to pursue projects within separate departments.
There are signs that Google’s decentralization of its health care projects will allow the company to focus more on its AI-enabled, clinical projects. For starters, all AI-enabled health care initiatives will report to Google’s VP of Search and AI. Additionally, many of Google’s bigger initiatives tap into its AI and data capabilities, such as AI-powered clinical diagnosis tools, an EHR search tool, and a health data analytics platform. Google is well positioned to tap into its core competencies to support these AI- and data-enabled health care products.
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