Google strikes deal with hospital chain to use patient data to develop healthcare algorithms

The company will access and store anonymised data from patients’ medical records and Internet-connected medical devices.

The collaboration will allow Google to access anonymous patient records from HCA, which operates 181 hospitals and more than 2,000 healthcare sites in 21 states, to develop healthcare algorithms for the channel. The data will be used to develop programmes that can inform medical decisions made by doctors. When it was announced, the agreement was described as multi-year, although it did not specify the number of years. 

As the healthcare industry has become more technology-driven in recent years, major hospitals and technology leaders have seized the opportunity to capitalise on the wealth of digitised medical information collected during each doctor’s visit. 

Microsoft and Amazon have also partnered with hospitals to analyse their patient information. Google has already partnered with the Ascension health system to collect patient records in a secret project called “Project Nightingale”. The company has been criticised for embarking on this project without informing patients and doctors of the details of the venture. HCA is a major success story for Google, as its facilities manage 5% of hospital services provided in the US, or about 30 million patient interactions each year. 

In addition to using this data to develop algorithms, Google could also create healthcare tools independently and then turn them over to HCA for its own testing. “We want to push the boundaries of what the clinician can do in real time with the data,” Chris Sakalosky, general manager of healthcare and life sciences at Google Cloud, said in a statement.

Healthcare privacy laws in the US allow hospitals to share information with contractors and researchers to analyse patient data without the patient’s express permission. Healthcare companies can use this information as they see fit, including to increase profits.

Last year, HCA generated $3.75 billion in profits, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, National Nurses United criticised the company for putting revenue ahead of patient and staff safety, as nurses reported staffing shortages and cuts to personal protective equipment.