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Google strikes data deal with healthcare giant

Google and HCA Healthcare have agreed on a deal to develop algorithms using patient records. It’s the latest charge into the $3 trillion healthcare market by a major tech company. HCA will consolidate and store data with Google, including everything from digital health records to internet-connected medical devices, as a result of the agreement.  Engineers from Google and HCA will collaborate to create algorithms that will help improve operational efficiency. 

A statement from the companies states that the focus of the agreement is to “empower physicians, nurses and others with workflow tools, analysis and alerts on their mobile devices to help clinicians respond quickly to changes in a patient’s condition. The partnership will also focus on impacting non-clinical support areas that may benefit from improved workflows through better use of data and insights, such as supply chain, human resources and physical plant operations, among others.”

“Data are spun off of every patient in real time,” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, HCA’s chief medical officer. “Part of what we’re building is a central nervous system to help interpret the various signals.”

“We want to push the boundaries of what the clinician can do in real time with data,” Chris Sakalosky, managing director of healthcare and life sciences at Google Cloud, explained.

The agreement broadens Google’s reach in healthcare, where the recent shift to digital records has resulted in an avalanche of data and a demand for data-mining services. However, new algorithm-development agreements between hospitals and tech firms have raised privacy concerns. Other well-known U.S. hospital systems, including St. Louis-based Ascension, have previously struck deals with Google, which also drew criticism.

Companies may also use the data, in ways that are legal, to develop products that increase corporate profit, with no way for patients to see or control how their data is used.  “Some people just don’t want their data used in particular ways by particular parties,” said Dr. Mello, who has served as an adviser to Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences.

HCA executives have assured the public that their information is safe, saying the patient records will be stripped of identifying information before being shared with Google. Google will access data when needed with consent from HCA. The tech giant has the capabilities to develop analytic tools without patient records, an executive said.

The federal health-privacy law, known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects personal patient information. Some argue that the federal law is out of date, claiming that its protections haven’t kept up with the growing demand for patient data in the technology sector.

Patients seeking care and interacting with doctors, laboratories, pharmacies, and medical devices create data, causing hospitals to be uniquely positioned to act as brokers for that data. Because of this, hospitals have been increasingly looking for ways to use that information in deals to aggregate patient records or develop new products. “They aren’t sleeping on this opportunity,” said Jeffrey Becker, principal analyst for healthcare at CB Insights.

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