Google Pushes into Patient Health Data

Google has been partnering with large hospital systems across the U.S., collecting tens of millions of patient health records in nearly 40 states. Such deals are helping the tech giant to design a patient information search tool for doctors and nurses.

Some of these partnerships allow Google access to personally identifiable health information, like names, dates of birth, medications, and diagnoses, without patients’ or doctors’ knowledge or consent, which has raised concerns among lawmakers. Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been investigating Google’s partnership with Ascension to determine whether the project violated privacy or security policies.

David Feinberg, CEO of Google Health and former Geisinger executive, insists the company’s move into health care is about improving health outcomes over profits, and that its motivations are not connected to its advertising business. These large stores of data feed into algorithms Google is creating to help detect eye disease, lung cancer, and kidney injuries.

However, current U.S. federal privacy laws allow Google to use the information it collects for purposes beyond building artificial intelligence to diagnose illnesses. Also, many patients are unaware that under HIPAA, health systems can share their data with a variety of third-party business associates involved in health care–related functions, such as practice management and quality assurance.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2020.