Google quietly announced at the end of last week that it plans to “retire” – shut down – its Google Health online medical records service.
This may not, at first, appear especially relevant to the UK, since the service was specifically targeted at US citizens with the unique challenges of the US healthcare system.
But it does have a wider significance here too – in that this was one of the prime examples quoted by the then leader of the Opposition David Cameron to demonstrate how wasteful was the NHS National Programme for IT’s electronic patient record scheme, and the apparent simplicity and cost-effectiveness of asking Google to do it instead.
“People can store their health records securely online, they can show them to whichever doctor they want. They’re in control, not the state,” said Cameron in a speech in April 2009.
“A web-based version of the government’s bureaucratic scheme, services like Google Health or Microsoft Health Vault, cost virtually nothing to run.”
It was a principle later touted by soon-to-be-former NHS CIO Christine Connelly last year when announcing that NHS trusts were to be given greater autonomy over their IT choices.
“The department will leave it to the people who will use those systems to decide for themselves if they want to use Microsoft’s products (HealthVault), Google’s products (Google Health), or somebody else’s,” Connelly said at the time.
Google said in a blog post that it was scrapping the product because “it didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped.”
Cameron’s first 18 months in charge of the NHS has surely already proved that great theories in opposition do not always translate into great policies in government.
If Google can’t make a health records service work that “costs virtually nothing to run” it perhaps puts the challenges of NHS electronic records into some context, and certainly puts Cameron’s understanding of how NHS IT works into the spotlight.