10 things to know about Project Nightingale

St. Louis-based Ascension and Google have made headlines over the past few weeks over Project Nightingale," an initiative designed to gather patient data to create healthcare solutions.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the project:

1. The code name is nothing secretive. Project Nightingale is a shorthand way to refer to the initiative and reflects the work of Florence Nightingale, a figure in nursing who propelled care in the 19th and 20th century.

2. Employees at Ascension have raised concerns about the ways Google is collecting patient data. Google has been able to gather lab results, diagnoses and hospitalizations records. In some instances, Google has access to patients' complete health history.

3. Patients and physicians across 21 states have not been informed about the data sharing. Google is looking to gather data on around 50 million patients.

4. Ascension partnered with Google to move its clinical data onto the tech giant's cloud platform. The data is stored on an Ascension-owned virtual private space. Google is not permitted to use the data for marketing or research purposes.

5. Google hopes to design software that leverages artificial intelligence technology and machine learning to make suggestions in patients' treatment plans. Additionally, Google aims to create a search tool that would aggregate patient data into a central location.

6. Ascension hopes to create tools for physicians to access patient information more quickly. " In order to empower our caregivers to provide safer, more effective and efficient care 24/7, we are testing point-of-care tools for our clinicians to quickly have access to more complete and specifically tailored patient data," Mr. Conrado said. "In the delivery of these capabilities, our patients' records — your records — will continue to be securely protected in this enhanced ecosystem just as they are today and will be used only as necessary by a limited number of experts in the development of these tools so that we can provide better healthcare to those we serve."

7. Project Nightingale is HIPAA-complaint, according to Ascension Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovation Eduardo Conrado.

8. The head of Google Health, David Feinberg, MD, has also responded to the criticism of the project. As a physician, he says he understands that health information should be private.

9. "As we noted in an earlier post, our work adheres to strict regulations on handling patient data, and our Business Associate Agreement with Ascension ensures their patient data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing our services — this means it's never used for advertising," Dr. Feinberg said. "We've also published a white paper around how customer data is encrypted and isolated in the cloud."

10. The Office of Civil Rights of HHS is asking for more information about Project Nightingale. Investigators are seeking to learn more about how patient information is being collected to ensure HIPAA protections have been implemented.

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