HCA, based in Nashville, Tennessee, which operates in about 2,000 locations in 21 states, would consolidate and store data from digital health records and internet-connected medical devices with Google as part of the multi-year agreement. Engineers from Google and HCA will work to develop algorithms to help improve operational efficiency, monitor patients and guide physician decisions, according to the companies.
The deal expands Google’s reach in healthcare, where the recent switch to digital recordings has created a data explosion and a new market for tech giants and startups. Data processing offers an opportunity to develop new treatments and improve patient safety, but the algorithm development agreements between hospitals and tech companies have also raised privacy concerns.
Google has already made deals with other leading US hospital systems, including St. Louis-based Ascension, which granted access to patients’ personal information, drawing public attention. Other tech giants have made similar deals.
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Dr Perlin said HCA patient records would be devoid of identifying information before being shared with Google data scientists and the hospital system would control access to the data. Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the companies.
Google will access data when needed with HCA’s consent, but the tech giant may develop analysis tools without a patient record and allow HCA to test models independently, said Chris Sakalosky, chief executive of healthcare and life sciences at Google Cloud. “We want to push the boundaries of what the clinician can do in real time with data,” he said.
Personal patient information is protected under the Federal Health Protection Act, known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The law allows hospitals and certain other healthcare companies, such as health insurers, to share information with contractors, who must also respect privacy protections under the law.
Some consider federal law outdated, saying protections in the law have not kept pace with the tech industry’s growing demand for patient data, said Michelle Mello, professor of law and medicine at Stanford University which focuses on the privacy of health data.
Companies can also use data under the law in ways that develop products that drive business profits, without visibility or control for patients over how their data is used. “Some people just don’t want their data to be used in a particular way by particular parties,” said Dr Mello, who was an advisor for Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences.
The healthcare and tech giants have embarked on health data aggregation and algorithm development with mixed results. International Business Machines Corp.
explored the sale of its IBM Watson Health business, as the company’s artificial health intelligence unit struggled, the Wall Street Journal reported in February.
Hospitals are uniquely positioned as brokers for data created by patients seeking care and interacting with physicians, laboratories, pharmacies and medical devices. They have increasingly sought to capitalize on this data in agreements to aggregate patient records or develop products with pharmaceutical and technology companies. “They’re also not sleeping on this opportunity,” said Jeffrey Becker, senior healthcare analyst at CB Insights.
Fourteen hospital systems announced in February the creation of a newly formed company, Truveta Inc., to sell access to their anonymized records to patients in 40 states. Other hospitals have invested in health records analysis companies, such as Health Catalyst Inc.,
which went public in 2019.
The multi-year HCA-Google agreement will aim to develop algorithms using data from 32 million annual patient visits that could help monitor patients and guide treatment, Dr Perlin said. During the pandemic, HCA used its own technology to monitor critically ill Covid-19 patients and educate doctors about potentially better treatment options. The company found that survival rates increased by comparing patient outcomes before and after the algorithm was deployed.
Companies will also look to develop algorithms that would help improve operations, Dr Perlin said, for example by automating the way hospital units track inventory of critical supplies.
Write to Melanie Evans at [email protected]
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