Google’s partnership with hospital system Ascension to store health records has sparked a federal probe.
Google and Ascension, located in St. Louis, entered into a business arrangement called “Project Nightingale,” where Ascension stores millions of patient records on Google’s Cloud Platform, according to Max Pruger, general manager of compliance at Kaseya, a global company that provides IT management software solutions for organizations and managed services providers, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland.
“Google in turn will not only provide cloud storage but also develop software that allows medical providers to query the patient records and generate reports based on the information,” Pruger says. “While this move is technically legal, the lack of transparency and failure to disclose the information in a timely manner, coupled with Google’s business model of monetizing consumer data, has privacy advocates concerned.”
This news should serve as a reminder to healthcare executives that it is indeed the patient’s information, according to Ray D’Onofrio, principal data architect at SPR, a digital tech consultancy in Chicago.
“How data is secured or managed can be challenging, but one of the most basic tenets of healthcare data is that it is entirely up to the patient to decide who they give access to, not the healthcare system,” D’Onofrio says. “The use of patient data is a struggle of extremes. At one end of the spectrum is the important role population data plays in managing the cost of healthcare to the country’s population. Population analytics identify opportunities for earlier detection and more effective treatments, while precision healthcare data allows these analytics to be uniquely applied to each patient. At the other extreme, is the desire to keep our personal health information private.”
According to an Ascension statement from Eduardo Conrado, the company’s executive vice president, strategy and innovations, Google is not permitted to use the data for marketing or research purposes.
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“Ascension is working with Google to address the interoperability challenges that currently exist with patient medical records to allow for easy, accurate, and secure exchange of patient health information. The goal is to be able to pull clinical information from many different systems and sites of care into a consolidated view so caregivers are able to make the best decision for patients,” Conrado wrote.
“This seems like a natural business partnership, but the fact that it was done with a lack of transparency and disclosure has put a shadow of fear and concern around it,” says Pruger.