Health IT

Report: Google AI unit has access to sensitive parts of UK patient records (Updated)

“This will include information about people who are HIV-positive, for instance, as well as details of drug overdoses and abortions. The agreement also includes access to patient data from the last five years,” according to New Scientist.

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An artificial intelligence arm of Google has access to highly sensitive health data on potentially millions of British patients, and the public was largely in the dark.

Friday, New Scientist reported that it had obtained a document showing that the National Health Service allows Google DeepMind to crunch patient-specific data from three London hospitals. “This will include information about people who are HIV-positive, for instance, as well as details of drug overdoses and abortions. The agreement also includes access to patient data from the last five years,” according to New Scientist.

DeepMind had announced in February that it was working with the NHS to build an app called Streams to help staff at the three hospitals monitor the health of patients with kidney disease. But the agreement uncovered by New Scientist shows that Google was doing far more in predictive analytics.

The story said:

The document also reveals that DeepMind is developing a platform called Patient Rescue, which will provide data analytics services to NHS hospital trusts. It states that Patient Rescue will use data streams from hospitals to build other tools, in addition to Streams, that could carry out real-time analysis of clinical data and support diagnostic decisions. One aim, the agreement says, is for these tools to help medical staff adhere to the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

For Streams alone, the Google subsidiary is getting complete, historical records from patients at the Royal Free NHS Trust, the publication reported. Google claimed that this is necessary because the NHS does not separate out data for kidney disease.

“This is not just about kidney function. They’re getting the full data,” the head of a health data privacy group told New Scientist.

In Google’s defense, the document states that the company cannot “use the data in any other part of its business,” according to the story.

“The data itself will be stored in the UK by a third party contracted by Google, not in DeepMind’s offices. DeepMind is also obliged to delete its copy of the data when the agreement expires at the end of September 2017.”

A statement the London-based Royal Free NHS trust provided to New Scientist also tried to allay fears. The trust “provides DeepMind with NHS patient data in accordance with strict information governance rules and for the purpose of direct clinical care only,” New Scientist reported.

The three Royal Free hospitals see 1.6 million patients annually.

UPDATE, May 2: A Google UK spokesperson said in an email that DeepMind did in fact make “all this public” two months ago on its website.

“There isn’t anything additional revealed in the data sharing agreement. For background, Patient Rescue was an old name for Streams (the tool to help doctors earlier detect patients at risk of acute kidney injury). It is not the name of a secret or future or different project,” the Google spokesperson added.