On April 20, 2015, Google’s 18-month-young Helpouts service closed its doors, and with it, the promising but underutilized Healthcare Helpouts, a HIPAA-complaint portal for healthcare providers to teleconference directly with patients and users. Introduced in November 2013, Helpouts served as a video-chat platform for instructors and professionals to offer free or paid services to clients. Healthcare Helpouts held potential for revolutionizing medical and mental health consultation.
One Medical Group, a large primary care system with offices in a number of major US cities, was the first sizable provider to embrace the service. An early innovator in offering medical and nutritional patient consulting via phone and email, and a host of additional services through their online member portal and mobile app, Google sought out One Medical Group to help pilot the initiative. Initially, One Medical offered free health and medical consultations for existing patients in a limited number of states, as well as the option to enroll as a new patient. For this initial test program, they limited their online telemedicine services to conditions best suited to the platform, such as colds, rashes, allergies, and general medical advice.
So what went wrong? The closure of Helpouts can be attributed to a number of reasons: limited marketing by Google; requiring customers to use Google+ for identity and Google Wallet as the exclusive payment system; a reportedly restrictive and cumbersome set up process for instructors and providers.
Healthcare continues to become increasingly personalized, with consumers taking more and more responsibility for their health – a trend we’ve seen manifest everywhere from self-monitoring with Fitbits and the Apple Watch, to Apple’s push of the iOS 8 HealthKit API framework, to the ever-popular “Googling it” as a first step to diagnosis. Healthcare Helpouts appeared to be a promising development in this movement. While the end of Helpouts may be seen as a setback in the shift to personal healthcare, I would be surprised if this is the last we hear from Google on this front.