If you’re like me, you’re extremely excited about the potential for design to reshape health care. I’m not talking health care system redesign (ACOs and such—though that’s great too), I’m talking about the type of design you see on Dribbble: the focus of a recent (awesome) HHS-sponsored competition.

One of the promising upstarts of health care re-design was a 2-year-old-or-so startup called Massive Health founded by ex-Mozillite Aza Raskin. Though I tend towards the skeptical, there was a part of me that thought that not only were they on to something, but they clearly had managed to aggregate real design talent. And in health care, no less! Apparently, I was not the only one as they convinced a number of investors to throw $2.25 million in to test out what they could do.

And what did they do? The Eatery. A quote-unquote “App Experiment” (because apparently Beta is out of vogue). Definitely addressing a real need. Definitely well-designed. But ultimately flawed. Crowd-sourced food rating should work, but there may have been an accountability problem. I, for one, did not know whom to blame when I was told that a picture of my sneaker scored 8/10 for healthy eating. Still, I was optimistic that a few iterations, a handful of pivots, and a dash of some refocused clinical perspective were a recipe for a successful Experiment #2.

Unfortunately, Experiment #2 never came. At least not to my knowledge. Instead, the next I hear of them they are being acquired by Jawbone. Amount: undisclosed. There was some speculation of “tens of millions,” but those quickly fizzled under scrutiny. Instead, it seemed to be another acqui-hire along the lines of Pipette (ie not really market validation, but a clap on the back and a “you’ll get them next time”).

If there is a lesson here, it is that there is more to empowering people to take control of their health than just making a well-designed app. Massive Health represented a movement whereby technology and design could cure health care’s woes from the outside-in. Today, it remains an open question whether or not consumers outside of the niche can be engaged in their health care through apps alone. I remain optimistic, but I may feel a little like “been there, done that” the next time a seasoned Silicon Valley vet says they know how to fix health care.

As far as valence, I’m honestly of mixed opinions as to whether this is a good or bad thing for the greater consumer health space. My bias would be to prefer a greater quantity of the small, agile players in the space, but I suppose having a few new juggernauts offer more contour to the Castlight, ZocDoc, Practice Fusion first-wave health IT gallery wouldn’t hurt. Regardless, I feel that this is a sign of things to come with a good bit of consolidation happening over the next 18 months in the wake of the record year of investments for “health IT” in 2012.

I’m curious, what lesson do you take out of Massive Health’s story?

-Craig