Google now has access to detailed medical records of tens of millions of Americans, but the company promises it will not mix the medical data with any of the other data Google collects about consumers using its services.
Google made this statement yesterday shortly after the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is partnering with Ascension, the nation's second largest health care system, "on a project to collect and break down the detailed personal health data of millions of people over 21
" To be clear: under this scheme, Ascension's data cannot be used for any purpose other than to provide these services we provide under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumption data, "Google said in a blog post. This means that Google will not use the medical information to target ads to users of Google services.
Google also stated that the work with Ascension "complies with industry-wide regulations (including HIPAA) regarding patient data, and comes [s] with strict guidance on privacy, security and data usage."
"We have a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Ascension, which manages access to Protected Health Information (PHI) for the purpose of helping providers support patient care, "Google said. "This is standard practice in health care, as patient data is often managed in electronic systems that nurses and doctors use extensively to deliver patient care."
What can Google see? Pretty much everything
Patient data shared with Google includes names, dates of birth, addresses, family members, allergies, immunizations, X-rays, hospitalizations, lab tests, medications, medical conditions, "and some billing requirements and other clinical records," according to a follow-up article in magazine. The partnership "covers personal health records for around 50 million patients with ascent," the magazine wrote.
The magazine said that "Neither doctors nor patients have been formally notified of the scheme" and that Google and Ascension started the project "secretly last year."
Google seems right in not partnering with HIPAA (Act on Portability and Accountability of Health Insurance). As the journal noted, this law generally allows hospitals to share data with business partners without telling patients, as long as the information is used only to help the covered entity perform its health care functions. & # 39; & # 39; An expert quoted by Journal. noted that Google would be in danger of breaking the law "if it uses health data to conduct independent research beyond the direct scope of patient care."
Ascension does not pay Google for these services, the magazine wrote, but Google's work with Ascension can lead to profitable businesses. Google uses Ascension's patient data "in part to design new software, underpinned by advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning, that zero in on some patients to suggest changes in their care," the magazine wrote. Google may sell this software to other health institutions. As part of the project, "Staff over Alphabet Inc., Google's superiors, have access to patient information, displaying internal documents," the magazine wrote.
The news of Google's work with Ascension comes as Google tries to buy Fitbit for $ 2.1 billion, in a deal pending government approval. Fitbit devices are used for health tracking, among other things, and Google wants to use Fitbit to strengthen its existing Wear OS platform.
But Google's privacy promise means that it will not combine any Ascension patient data with the data it collects from Fitbit, Wear OS, Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome or any of its other consumer services.
Google Ascension Services
Google said it delivers its standard G Suite productivity tools to Ascension and that it does custom work for the company. This includes moving Ascension's "local data storage and analytics environments into their own private and secure Google Cloud environment." The scheme also includes "provid [ing] tools that Ascension could use to support improvements in clinical quality and patient safety," Google said.
Google said that working with Ascension is similar to what it already did with "dozens of other healthcare professionals."
"These organizations, like Ascension, use Google to securely manage their patient data, under strict privacy – and security standards. They are the managers of the data, and we provide services on their behalf, "Google said.
Ascension also released a statement about its work with Google yesterday. Ascension said it aims to improve the tools used by both patients and caregivers as well as "explor [e] artificial intelligence / machine learning applications that will have the potential to support improvements in clinical quality and effectiveness."