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Google introduces Project Nightingale to analyze millions of health records

Nov 12, 2019, 2:25 pm

With the purchase of Fitbit, Google accessed a huge database on user health. But the giant’s attempts to become a medical assistant do not end there. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google has an initiative called ‘Project Nightingale‘ in which it seeks to organize the medical data of millions of users.

The initiative began last year with a group of 2,600 Catholic hospitals in the US and has expanded this summer. Google has been collecting the complete medical history; from the names of the patients, their dates of birth, the results of the analyzes, allergies and the diagnoses of the different doctors. A huge amount of data for which they would not need the knowledge of the patient or the doctor, because these data are obtained by allying directly with non-profit organizations such as Ascension, one of the largest health systems in the US.

At least 150 Google workers would have accessed the data of millions of patients, in 21 different states of the US as explained by the WSJ. After the information was released, Google has decided to publish a statement confirming its alliance with Ascension. A business path that other companies like Amazon and Microsoft are also exploring, but they would not have reached an agreement of this scope in the US yet.

Google ensures that patient data strictly comply with the legislation. In the case of Ascension and the US, it is the ‘Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’ (HIPAA) of 1996, but a simple search in Google HealthCare shows us that Google Cloud also says it complies with other safety certifications such as ISO regulations 27001, 27017 or 27018.

This exchange of data between medical systems and Google is regulated as long as it remains a “business partner,” a legal figure that is contemplated in HIPAA and that allows Google to use medical history “only to help the covered entity to carry out their health care functions.

Why has Google activated its ‘Project Nightingale’? According to the company, “To modernize the health industry, a task of critical importance, with the result is not only of digital transformation but also of improving patient outcomes and saving lives.” According to the WSJ, Google has been using this data to improve its software and artificial intelligence to improve health suggestions.

The project is in the hands of a dozen engineers associated with the Google Cloud division. A collection that would be accessible in ‘Patient Search’, a tool that allows doctors and other health professionals to access a page with all the health information of patients. As can be seen in the filtered catches, the presentation of these data does not differ much from the information usually available to doctors themselves.

This ‘Patient Search’ tool would be focused on nonprofit health systems. According to Forbes, the system is already being tested in the Ascension-associated hospitals in Florida and Texas and its availability is planned to be expanded by the end of the year. As the information describes, Google would not be charging for this service and its goal would be to offer this tool to more health systems in the future.

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