Ascension & Google Announce Collaboration Following Healthcare Data Sharing Claims

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Ascension and Google today announced a collaboration designed to transform healthcare following claims of the secret sharing of health data.

The announcement explains the goal is to modernize systems, streamline engagement and improve the patient experience.

The announcement came a short time after a report emerged stating Google has access to the healthcare data of millions of Americans.

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"Working together on healthcare transformation"

By its own measure, Ascension is "one of the nation's leading non-profit health systems." The company announced today that it has entered into a collaboration with Google.

The announcement did not go into specifics on what the partnership means in real terms, but did continuously talk about optimizing current systems. In one instance, explaining the partnership will result in "new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and service."

As part of this optimization, Ascension confirmed it will be moving to Google's G Suite and the Google Cloud Platform.

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The company also states it will be "exploring artificial intelligence/machine learning applications" but did not specify whether they are its own solutions, or Google's.

The announcement arrived shortly after a report emerged claiming Google had access to patient data for months.

Google accessing patient data

Minutes before the press release came through, a report surfaced from the Wall Street Journal citing "a person familiar with the matter and documents."

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The report highlighted how the relationship between Ascension and Google started in "secret" last year. Since then, the amount of data shared through "Project Nightingale" had been steadily increasing.

During this secret period, the reports alleges health data on "millions of patients" had been shared with Google. In addition, the data has been and still is accessible by more than 150 Google employees.

Adding to the rising privacy concerns, the reports states no patients or doctors have been notified of the data sharing.

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While the press release did not specify the type of data that's shared, the WSJ reports did. According to the report, data includes personal information, such as "patient names and dates of birth." In addition to "lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records."

That's not the entirety of the data shared, just some of the examples. The report goes on to state the data shared equates to "a complete health history."

The report also expands on the artificial intelligence point. Explaining that Google is using this patient data to develop and train AI software. One of the goals is the ability for the AI to better recommend patient care in the future.

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Data sharing concerns

Naturally, all of this immediately raised concerns over Google's level of access to patient information. Especially in light of patients reportedly unaware their information is being shared with Google.

However, closing out the announcement, Ascension looked to offer some reassurance. The company stated that all of its work with Google is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Although that's unlikely to reassure all and especially as this follows on from Google confirming it is acquiring Fitbit. Another company focused on the user health data collection.

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