Google clarifies secretive health data partnership with Ascension

November 22, 2019

Google Health says the Project Nightingale partnership is aimed at creating and testing a new EHR interface.

David Feinberg, MD, head of Google Health, says the company’s partnership with Ascension will help develop “ an intelligent suite of tools” which will allow physicians to take better care of patients, according a November 20 blog post.

As previously reported by the Wall Street Journal,  the web search giant has been collecting health information from millions of Americans without their knowledge through a partnership with Ascension hospitals in 21 states. The program, dubbed Project Nightingale, has seen “complete health histories” including lab results, diagnoses, and hospitalization records being made accessible to at least 150 Google employees.

Feinberg says the project is aimed at simplifying the technological hurdles which make “doctors and nurses feel like they are ‘data clerks’ rather than healers.”

To do this, the company intends to make EHRs, “more useful, more accessible and more searchable by pulling them into a single, easy-to-use interface for doctors,” Feinberg says.

The blog post seeks to clarify how the company will use these patient records to build the new system saying that in order to ensure the new tools are safe for Ascension personnel to use, they must use real patient data. There are strict controls for Google employees who handle this data, which include:

·      Developing and testing the system on synthetic and openly available datasets

·      Google staff that may be exposed to real data receive HIPAA and medical ethics training and are approved by Ascension for a limited time

·      Data is available in strictly controlled environments with audit trails

·      Prioritizing the development of technology reducing the number of engineers who need access to the data

·      Participating in external certification with third-party auditors checking the processes