Google made searching and finding answers to health-related questions on its search engine easier. Then along came wearables, and along with Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, International Business Machines (IBM) and others, tech companies moved into health data.
Some healthcare companies have begun to push back, based on a lack of rules.
Data has become the gold key to services and some hospitals are granting big tech access to train their algorithms in hopes of finding cures for cancer and other major diseases.
Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google have access to “identifiable patient information” under separate deals to “crunch millions of health records,” reports one media outlet.
“Hospitals are massive containers of patient data,” reports The Wall Street Journal, citing Lisa Bari, a consultant and former lead for health information technology for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center.
Bari told the WSJ that hospitals can share patient data as long as they follow federal privacy laws. These laws have limited consumer protections and that the “data belongs to whoever has it.”
Not all hospitals and tech companies said they share personally identifiable information to develop cures. But they can if they choose. For example, there is an agreement between IBM and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to develop artificial intelligence. The Mayo Clinic also said Google has access to more records than first disclosed earlier this month.
After announcing its intentions to acquire Fitbit in November 2019, Google revealed a partnership with Ascension, a U.S. healthcare chain of 2,600 hospitals and doctors' offices, on a project to collect, analyze and share the personal healthcare information of millions of people across 21 states.
Healthcare providers began to make an individual’s personal data available to them from their mobile phones and desktop computers years ago. For example, Christiana Care Health System in February 2019 began supporting Health Records on iPhones in an effort to combine data from hospitals, clinics and the Apple Health app to make it easy for patients to see their medical records from multiple providers whenever they choose.
Data storage also comes into play.
Epic Systems, a privately held healthcare software company and the maker of MyChart, reportedly said it will stop any further integration with Google Cloud and instead focus on Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure, citing insufficient interest from customers in Google and criticism from privacy advocates about its work with Ascension.
Data sharing could be further extended. A proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could further erode privacy and open access to media records, at least for the individual -- and perhaps for tech companies that could use the data to personalize marketing and advertising messages for their advertisers.