Ascension leader shares 8 reactions to reports on system's work with Google

Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president of strategy and innovations for St. Louis-based Ascension, has shared several reactions to the Nov. 11 Wall Street Journal report that Ascension and Google began a secret partnership, coined Project Nightingale, in 2018 that allowed the tech giant to amass personal health information on millions of patients.

Becker's summarized the WSJ article here, noting the WSJ's reporting that the data collection was done covertly and Ascension physicians and patients across 21 states had not been informed about the data-sharing. This is a claim that Mr. Conrado challenges in his commentary.

Below is Mr. Conrado's commentary in full, which was first published on the Ascension website and can be found here. It was published by Becker's with Ascension's permission.   

Many news outlets recently published stories about Ascension's collaboration with Google to create innovative systems to better serve the evolving needs of consumers, patients and caregivers. We want to clear up some inaccuracies in the reporting to set the record straight.

1. Anything but secret: Ascension's work with Google has been anything but secret. In fact, Google first announced its work with us in July, on its Q2 earnings call. Acute care administrative and clinical leaders across Ascension have been informed of the work, enterprisewide webinars have been held, and the clinical leaders of our employed physician group have been informed in detail about the project. In our deployment sites, front-line nurses and clinicians have not only been informed but have actively participated in the project.

2. The "secret" code name: For planning purposes, Ascension and Google named our collaboration Project Nightingale as a shorthand way of referring to it. The name reflects the work of Florence Nightingale, a trailblazing figure in nursing who greatly affected 19th- and 20th-century policies around proper care.

3. About the data: Ascension's clinical data, hosted in the Google Cloud Platform, is housed within an Ascension-owned virtual private space. Google is not permitted to use the data for marketing or research purposes and cannot combine the data with other consumer data it has collected.

4. And it's secure: All of Google's work with Ascension is in compliance with applicable regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and is covered by a Business Associate Agreement (BAA)that governs Protected Health Information (PHI). Any exchange of PHI in connection with this work is for the purpose of helping our providers support patient care. This is standard practice in healthcare, as patient data is frequently managed in electronic systems that nurses and doctors widely use to deliver patient care. Our data will always be separate from Google's consumer data, and it will never be used by Google for purposes such as targeting consumers for advertising.

5. One media outletpublished a chart that supposedly shows an Ascension process that could lead to billing for "more or different procedures." That's simply not the case. This collaboration is all about improving the lives of those we serve, not "billing more."

6. How we get there: Ascension is working with Google to address the interoperability challenges that currently exist with patient medical records to allow for easy, accurate and secure exchange of patient health information. The goal is to be able to pull clinical information from many different systems and sites of care into a consolidated view so caregivers are able to make the best decision for patients. The work we're doing includes developing new technologies that enable our clinicians to find important clinical information easier so patients can be assured their caregivers have access to the right information to provide safe, effective care.

7. The promise of AI: Artificial intelligence holds promise to help physicians more effectively and efficiently treat patients. Our products in development will help improve care delivery and address well-documented interoperability pain points within the healthcare system. Artificial intelligence/machine learning will help provide insights, with a licensed clinician always making the final treatment decisions.

8. Our focus: Our focus is extending care to those who need it, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. Ascension has a long history of serving communities. Last year, we provided $2 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs.

We selected Google to help us on our journey of transformation. As a Catholic health ministry, we conducted an Ethics Discernment to ensure this collaboration is aligned with our mission and values, and that it is consistent with our Catholic identity.

This is groundbreaking work that will improve the experience of patients and consumers, as well as caregivers. As we develop and implement these new tools, it will be easier for patients and consumers to engage with the healthcare system, empowering them to be proactively engaged in maintaining their health. Caregivers will have a more valuable experience, with technology helping them achieve new insights so they can better predict and manage patient needs.

We're excited about this opportunity to invest in technology-enabled services that address the toughest healthcare problems facing our nation and will help Ascension lead the transformation of healthcare.

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