Following a controversial data-sharing project within the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, the search engine giant has partnered with the second-largest health system in the United States, St Louis-based Ascension, to collect and analyze the health records of millions of patients.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, which claims to have seen confidential internal documents confirming the move, Google already has the personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states in a database.
The project is codenamed Project Nightingale and according to the WSJ, over 150 Google employees have access to the records of tens of millions of patients.
But Google is relying on a legal justification that says hospitals (under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) are allowed to share data without telling patients if that data is used to “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.”
Google is using the data - which covers everything from lab results to doctor diagnoses to hospitalization records and connects it to patient names and their dates of birth - to develop new software that purports to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide valuable insights into health issues and even predict future health issues for individuals.
The whole approach may seem oddly familiar to Reg readers: we have extensively covered an almost identical scheme in the UK called DeepMind in which Google was found to be storing and analyzing data on over a million patients following a data-sharing agreement with the Royal Free Hospital.