Google to use patient data to develop healthcare algorithms for hospital chain

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Google has made a deal for access to patient records from HCA, which which operates 181 hospitals and more than 2,000 healthcare sites in 21 states, so the tech company can develop healthcare algorithms, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Google will store anonymized data from patient health records and internet-connected medical devices. That data will be used to build programs that could inform medical decisions made by doctors. The deal is described as “multiyear” by the WSJ, without specifying how many years.

As health records moved online over the past few years, hospitals and tech companies jumped at opportunities to take advantage of the glut of digitized medical information collected at each doctor’s visit. Microsoft and Amazon also have deals with hospitals to analyze their patient information. Google previously partnered with healthcare system Ascension to gather patient records in a secretive project called “Project Nightingale.” The company was criticized for starting in on the project without disclosing the work to patients and doctors. HCA is a major win for Google, since its facilities handle 5 percent of the hospital services provided in the US — around 30 million patient interactions each year.

Along with using that data to develop algorithms, Google could also build healthcare tools independently and then pass them off to HCA to test on its own. “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, told The Wall Street Journal.

Healthcare privacy laws in the US allow hospitals to share information with contractors and allow researchers to analyze patient data without express permission from those patients. Healthcare companies can use that information in any way they see fit, including to boost profits.

HCA made $3.75 billion in profits during 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. National Nurses United said in February that the company prioritized income over patient and staff safety. Nurses reported staff shortages and cutbacks on personal protective equipment.

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