Google signs agreement to assist in NHS patient care
Tue 22 Nov 2016
A National Health Service hospital trust has signed an agreement with Google’s DeepMind group to implement a new app that notifies doctors of updates to patient conditions in real time. This is intended to eliminate paperwork requirements and free up time for medical professionals to treat patients.
Allowing DeepMind access to patient records, however, has raised concerns among privacy activists.
Google’s DeepMind group signed a five-year agreement with the NHS to collaborate with clinicians to create a notification system whereby doctors will get alerts about the medical needs of their patients, including test results. The system will be implemented in the hopes that it will help to reduce the number of preventable deaths and even admissions to intensive care by getting medical professionals timely and accurate updates to patient conditions.
Google will provide support to the Barnet, Chase Farm, and Royal Free Hospitals with an app called Streams, which will give medical professionals alerts about their patients on their mobile device.
The Streams app, which has been created and tested as part of a year-long joint project between DeepMind and the NHS, will be rolled out early next year. The app will initially provide doctors with signs of acute kidney injury in their patients, bur will be expanded to cover a wide range of illnesses where ‘early intervention is key, and technology can make sure that happens.’
When the app is fully operational, Google estimates that it could save clinicians up to half a million man hours per year currently devoted to paperwork, and that time can instead be directed toward direct patient care.
However, in order for the Streams app to work properly, DeepMind must have access to patient records. The data sharing agreement between NHS and DeepMind that was revealed this past spring gave the Google subsidiary access to 1.6 million patient records including names and medical histories. While the data is encrypted and stored at a third party contracted by Google, privacy advocates have raised concerns over the company’s access to medical data for private citizens.
In fact, the partnership between DeepMind and the NHS is under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The initial complaint noted that while the information sharing agreement required that information be encrypted during transit, it was not prohibited from being unencrypted at DeepMind, raising the concern that DeepMind employees could gain access to NHS records including personal identifiers.
A representative for the ICO said that the investigation is ongoing, adding, “We are working with the National Data Guardian to ensure the project complies with the Data Protection Act.”