Google is collecting patient health records of millions of Americans from across 21 states to aid its AI initiative called Project Nightingale, according to news reports.
The project is gathering patient hospitalization records, diagnosis, lab details and more for the past one year. This is being done without the knowledge of patients or doctors in collaboration with its business partner, Ascension, a leading healthcare system in the U.S.
Forbes, a leading business and tech magazine has said that the data collection includes, ”… complete patient information as well as notes about patient medical issues, test results, and medications, including information from scanned documents.”
There are strict healthcare rules in the U. S. that prohibit hospitals and doctors from sharing patient data with third parties. But under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), hospitals can share data with business partners, without disclosing it to the patients, if it is for the purpose of providing healthcare. Ascension being a major health insurance player, its partnership with hospitals and Google both allow it to circumvent these strict privacy rules.
Ascension has defended its actions saying that it has stringent data security and protection systems in place and adheres to all the required data handling norms.
Google Project Nightingale
Google under its Project Nightingale is collecting patient data to build an application based on AI and deep learning to diagnose and track patient illnesses and suggest treatments.
News reports say that over 100 Google employees have full access to all patient data collected under this project, which has the potential to further compromise the privacy of said patients. Google on its part has put forward its stance in a blog post, ”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.”
Almost all tech majors like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are eager to have a foothold in the health space which is predicted to be the next big industry to explode in the coming years. Apple has already come up with its Fitbit watch with myriad applications. Microsoft is a leading healthcare data hub and Amazon has ventured into space with its acquisition of online pharmacy Pillpack.