by Audrey Conklin
Google is reportedly partnering with the second-largest health care system in the U.S. in an effort to collect health data on millions of Americans, according to people familiar with the matter.
The partnership with Ascension to collect health data including lab results and patient birthdates is part of a secret project by the tech giant called “Project Nightingale,” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday citing those familiar with the project and internal documents.
“As the healthcare environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and healthcare providers,” Ascension Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovations Eduardo Conrado said in a statement Monday.
“Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve,” Conrado continued.
The data collection process is part of a bigger plan by Google to create new software using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to analyze patient information for Ascension and give people recommendations to improve their health, according to WSJ and Forbes.
WSJ scoop: Unbeknownst to patients, Google has worked with the Ascension health system to get access to patient data, including lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, with patient names and dates of birth. https://t.co/IzYBVRamzH via @WSJ
— Gerald F Seib (@GeraldFSeib) November 11, 2019
Neither doctors nor patients have been notified about the data-collection process, despite the fact that more than 150 Google employees and staffers at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, already have access to the health information of tens of millions of patients, one person familiar with the project and documents told WSJ.
A Google spokesperson, however, told WSJ that the project is compliant with federal health law. Ascension similarly said the project is compliant with U.S. law and is “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort,” according to Forbes.
Privacy experts also told WSJ that the type of information being collected is not illegal under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which gives hospitals permission to share some data with certain businesses so as long as it is used “to help the covered entity carry out its health-care functions.”
The project is likely part of a larger attempt by various Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Microsoft to collect Americans’ health data by sharing information through different platforms, WSJ reported.
Google also agreed to buy fitness watchmaker Fitbit for about $2.1 billion, the activity-tracking company announced in a Nov. 1 press release. Both companies, however, have faced backlash over their data-collection practices — Google for its massive scale of data collection and Fitbit for collecting specific individual health-related data.
A University of Chicago student sued Google and the university for sharing personal health data to predict future medical events and to assist nurses and doctors, The New York Times reported on June 26.
Additional context on Google / Ascension partnership: There is an on-going lawsuit re: Google and the University of Chicago's handling of patient data, on top of its past Deepmind / NHS issues https://t.co/OQZNuP5ayK
— Jillian D'Onfro (@jillianiles) November 11, 2019
“The claims in this lawsuit are without merit,” University of Chicago Medical Center spokeswoman Lorna Wong told NYT in a statement. “The University of Chicago Medical Center has complied with the laws and regulations applicable to patient privacy.”
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Audrey Conklin is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Google at Work” by Google.