Google Signs Healthcare Deal With US Firm Ascension

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Privacy worry? Search engine giant Google to gain access to health data on millions of Americans

Google has gained access to a huge amount of healthcare data about millions of Americans, after it signed a deal with Ascension.

Ascension runs 2,600 hospitals in the US and the data sharing scheme has been dubbed ‘Project Nightingale, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The news will trigger yet more concern about privacy issues concerning the search engine giant. Google is already facing an anti-trust investigation from the attorney generals from more than 30 US states, centred on alleged data collection and privacy anti-trust violations.

Google deal

According to the WSJ, Google can now access health records, names and addresses without telling patients or their doctors, after it signed the deal with Ascension, one of the US’s largest healthcare system provider.

Google will be able to access names, date of birth, addresses, lab results, diagnoses, records of hospitalisation etc.

The Alphabet unit has moved quickly to address privacy concerns, insisting the deal is “standard practice” in the United States.

“There’s been a good deal of speculation on this partnership, so we want to make sure everyone has the facts,” blogged Google.

“First: What is the work we’re doing with Ascension? Back in July, on our Q2 earnings call, we announced “Google Cloud’s AI and ML solutions are helping healthcare organisations like Ascension improve the healthcare experience and outcomes,” it wrote.

“Our work with Ascension is exactly that – a business arrangement to help a provider with the latest technology, similar to the work we do with dozens of other healthcare providers,” Google insisted. “These organisations, like Ascension, use Google to securely manage their patient data, under strict privacy and security standards. They are the stewards of the data, and we provide services on their behalf.”

Google said that is working with Ascension to shift its infrastructure to the “secure Google Cloud environment”.

It will also give Ascension staff the ability to work using G Suite productivity tools, and will extend tools to doctors and nurses to improve care.

Patient data

“Second: What about patient data? All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations (including HIPAA) regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” Google wrote. “This is standard practice in healthcare, as patient data is frequently managed in electronic systems that nurses and doctors widely use to deliver patient care.”

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” it insisted.

“It’s understandable that people want to ask questions about our work with Ascension,” said Google. “We’re proud of the important work we’re doing as a cloud technology partner for healthcare companies. Modernising the healthcare industry is a critically important task, with the ultimate result not just digital transformation, but also improving patient outcomes and saving lives.”

In July this year the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said it would investigate whether “market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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