Google Cloud has signed a multi-year deal with one of the largest hospital chains in the US to create algorithms to store patient health records. The two companies maintain that all sensitive data will be kept completely private.
The tech giant announced its “strategic partnership” with HCA Healthcare on Wednesday, saying it will work with the Nashville-based company to develop a “secure and dynamic data analytics platform,” hoping the technology will help to increase efficiency and patient monitoring, as well as marshal data to guide doctors’ decisions.
Running more than 2,000 healthcare sites, including 185 hospitals, across the US and the UK, HCA said the new tech will help to organize data from the chain’s 32 million annual patient encounters, with the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jonathan Perlin, telling the Wall Street Journal the algorithms would act as a “central nervous system.”
Google will make use of its AI and analytics teams, as well as its Cloud Healthcare API and “planetary-scale” BigQuery database to build custom tools for HCA. The tech will be applied in non-clinical settings as well, the companies added, saying it would improve workflows for “supply chain, human resources and physical plant operations.”
While Google has drawn scrutiny after signing similar deals with health providers in the past – such as a 2019 agreement with hospital giant Ascension, which allowed the firm to access personal patient information – the two companies insist the HCA deal will keep data under tight lock and key.
“Privacy and security will be guiding principles throughout this partnership. The access and use of patient data will be addressed through the implementation of Google Cloud’s infrastructure along with HCA Healthcare’s layers of security controls and processes,” they said.
Perlin also told the Journal that all patient records would be “stripped of identifying information” before being shared with Google, and that HCA would always control access to the data. However, because the terms of the agreement were not disclosed by either company, it remains unclear exactly how they plan to secure the records.
Before seeking deals with other providers, Google attempted to create its own healthcare database. Launched in 2008, Google Health offered an opt-in service that asked users to volunteer their own information, but was shuttered just four years later due to an apparent lack of interest. The company revived the effort in 2018, but with a greater focus on providers rather than individual patients, this time working with British AI firm DeepMind. That work would later be parlayed into Google’s controversial and secretive deal with Ascension, dubbed ‘Project Nightingale’, which was only revealed to the public in 2019 by a report in the Wall Street Journal.
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