Google will gain access to 32 million patient records through a new partnership

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Google has struck a deal with a massive hospital chain to access approximately 32 million patient records and hopes to develop new healthcare algorithms that can guide doctors’ decisions.

HCA Healthcare, the hospital chain based in Nashville, Tennessee, announced the deal on Wednesday to consolidate and store data from its digital health records and medical devices with Google Cloud.

The company, which owns and operates 186 hospitals and some 2,000 care sites including clinics, says it will use Google’s “planetary scale database” to analyze data from its 32 million annual records of patient visits.

The partnership marks Google’s latest foray into healthcare – and it already raises privacy concerns.

Google partners with HCA Healthcare, which owns 186 hospitals across the country, including the Good Samaritan in San Jose, California, in a deal to analyze medical records

Google partners with HCA Healthcare, which owns 186 hospitals across the country, including the Good Samaritan in San Jose, California, in a deal to analyze medical records

Medical records are protected under federal privacy laws, but the rules allow hospitals and other health care providers to share patient information with contractors as long as they adhere to the same privacy protections.

HCA says patient records will be stripped of personally identifiable information before being shared with Google data scientists, and that the hospital system would control access to the data, the report said. Wall Street Journal, who first mentioned the partnership.

“Privacy and security will be the guiding principles during this partnership,” HCA said in a statement. “Access to and use of patient data will be addressed through the implementation of the Google Cloud infrastructure along with the security layers and processes of HCA Healthcare.”

HCA hopes to use Google’s algorithms to provide real-time input on treatment options for physicians and improve patient outcomes.

The hospital system points to early success using its proprietary technology to track critically ill COVID-19 patients and notify doctors of potentially better treatment options.

“Next-generation care requires decision support based on data science so we can focus more sharply on safe, efficient and effective patient care,” said Sam Hazen, CEO of HCA, in a statement.

The partnership marks Google's latest foray into healthcare - and it already raises privacy concerns

The partnership marks Google’s latest foray into healthcare – and it already raises privacy concerns

“We consider partnerships with leading organizations, such as Google Cloud, who share our passion for innovation and continuous improvement, as fundamental to our efforts,” adds Hazen.

HCA says the partnership will also focus on streamlining non-clinical support areas that can benefit from improved workflows through better use of data and insights, such as supply chain, human resources and physical plant operations.

It’s not Google’s first foray into healthcare, and the company’s previous medical records partnerships have been criticized before.

In 2019, a whistleblower leaked details about Project Nightingale, Google’s partnership with Ascension, the St. Louis-based healthcare company that helped Google collect personal health information from millions of Americans in 21 states.

Two simple questions kept haunting me: Did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given the opportunity to choose in or out? the whistleblower wrote in an essay for the Guardian.

The answer to the first question quickly became clear: no. The answer to the second one that I became more and more convinced of: yes. Put the two together, and how can I not say anything? the person continued.

The person said about 150 Google employees and 100 Ascension employees participated in Project Nightingale, transferring the personal data of more than 50 million Americans to Google.

The data involved in Project Nightingale includes laboratory results, doctor’s diagnoses and hospitalizations, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth.

In that project, Google hoped to use artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to predict disease patterns in ways that could one day lead to new treatments, the whistleblower said.

Ascension released a press release acknowledging its partnership with Google after the Wall Street Journal blew the project off the ground.

The statement said the Ascension project would help “ improve the experience of patients and consumers, as well as suppliers and employees, and further its mission to provide compassionate, personalized care to all, especially those living in poverty and the most vulnerable. ‘

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