Interview: Google Health: Consumer Launch Coming In Next Few Months; Business Model? Not Just Yet

As expected, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt used his closing-day keynote at HIMMS08 today to make a major statement about the plans for Google Health. ( has the details.) It’s not really a launch — the initiative has been underway internally for a long time, the Cleveland Clinic pilot project was announced last week and other partners are on board, and the consumer version won’t be ready for beta for months. Like Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), which already announced its HealthVault, and other companies including Revolution Health, Google execs believe they can create a safe, usable central point for storing, using and managing health data. Google’s particular emphasis is on the cloud — store everything there and access it when needed. As I mentioned the other day, I had to miss the keynote in person but Marissa Mayer, Google VP-search & user experience, spent some time with me on the phone today discussing the rationale behind Google Health. Some excerpts:

Timing: The first public phase is the pilot program with the Cleveland Clinic. Mayer: “We anticipate being able to make Google Health available in coming months.” Couldn’t pin her down to first half of the year or any specific time frame.

Business model: Mayer didn’t rule out advertising but that isn’t part of any plan for now. In fact — and this is the kind of thing that can drive investors batty — she steered away from equating Google Health with Google money: “We generally start by trying to build a really solid product that users respond to and we worry about the monetization elements (later). We haven’t played out all the different business models here.” Schmidt said today that Google Health will not be supported by advertising.

She also said the company will benefit from having more content online: “Generally, we think more content being online has a lot of nice properties and can improve search.” But she added, “we haven’t looked specifically at how health and this content specifically will improve search.”

Not a paper substitute or solution: When I asked Mayer how this would help when you hit the doctor’s office and they hand you a five-page form to fill out, she was honest. It won’t any time soon. “The first iteration is Google Health addressing information that already exists electronically… Once we start moving people there, we know that migration will happened naturally.” Places that have electronic information are “clearly the easiest place to start.” (Where it might help is the ability to check some details if you have access.)

Building a platform: Mayer: “The goal here is to publish an API … We want to create a platform strategy.” They see developers creating apps that will spread the use of Google Health.

Portability: Mayer: “Overall, we have a lot of initiatives working on getting people’s information to the cloud. The idea that you don’t need your information to be stored on the disk of the computer in front of you makes you a lot more portable. … Google Health is also part of this suite of technologies that rely on the cloud.” What happens when you’re away from the cloud? Mayer: “Obviously, if you’re close to the internet you can log in.” She mentioned the oft-discussed idea that people should be able to download all the info and put it on a USB key. But, she said, “That’s not part of the first iteration.” (I couldn’t tell if it was even on the roadmap.)

Cornerstones: Mayer wrote about what she thinks sets Google apart from the crowd for the company’s official blog today. The shorthand: Portability, platform, user focus (clean, easy to use), privacy.

Partners: Mayer mentioned a few but here’s the list from Schmidt’s slides: Walgreens, Longs, Duane Reade, Rx America, Quest Diagnostics, Cedar Sinai, Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, AllScripts/NEPSI, MIE, MEDEM,, Solventus, AMA, American Heart Association, Dossia, Walmart and Minute Clinic.