How Apple, Amazon & other tech giants are using healthcare data 

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Apple, Amazon and Google all made headlines this week for the ways they leverage healthcare data, from supporting research initiatives to creating products to improve patient care delivery.

Amazon Web Services on Nov. 13 introduced its new service AWS Data Exchange, which allows customers to search, subscribe to and use third-party data from companies including Deloitte and Change Healthcare within the cloud.

Healthcare organizations can subscribe to aggregated data from clinical trials to advance their research activities; Deloitte, which serves as a qualified data provider for the service, integrated its ConvergeHealth Miner platform with AWS to help support healthcare customers' research, clinical trial, population health and reimbursement initiatives. AWS Data Exchange prohibits the sharing of personal health information and other sensitive personal data that is not already legally and publicly available, according to Amazon's news release.  

Apple launched a new research application on Nov. 14 that allows individuals to enroll in a trio of studies designed and conducted in partnership with leading academic and research institutions.

After downloading the app and completing the study enrollment process, participants will automatically contribute data to the studies from their Apple Watches and iPhones regarding health factors such as movement, heart rate, menstruation and noise levels.

During the enrollment process, Apple shares a consent form with participants that states the technology giant promises not to sell health data as well as an explanation of how data will be used in each study. Participants can also decide which data they want to share and can choose to stop sharing data or leave any of the three studies at any time.

Google and St. Louis-based Ascension made waves this week after a Nov. 11 Wall Street Journal report claimed that health system employees were concerned by the technology giant's collection and use of millions of Ascension patients' personal health information.

Google and Ascension partnered last year on "Project Nightingale," which focuses on gathering patient information to develop healthcare solutions such as artificial intelligence-powered software that can make suggestions to patients' treatment plans, according to the WSJ report. Ascension patients' data that is being shared with Google includes lab results, diagnoses and hospitalization records.

Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president of strategy and innovations at Ascension, shared several reactions to the WSJ report, including that Project Nightingale was not a secret operation; Google first announced its collaboration with the health system during its second quarter of 2019 earnings call. All the work done through Project Nightingale is in compliance with HIPAA and is covered by a Business Associate Agreement that governs PHI, Mr. Conrado added. The Office of Civil Rights of HHS is seeking more information on the project to ensure HIPAA protections were fully implemented, OCR Director Roger Severino told WSJ, according to the publication's Nov. 12 report.

EHR vendors rolling out data initiatives  

Earlier this year, Epic and Cerner both unveiled initiatives focused on using de-identified patient data for medical research.

On Aug. 27, Epic CEO Judy Faulkner announced the EHR giant's new program called Cosmos, which is designed to mine data from millions of patient medical records at various U.S. health systems in support of treatment research.

Cerner partnered with the Duke Clinical Research Institute on Aug. 6 to pilot the Cerner Learning Health Network, which aims to automate data collection and expand researchers' access to patient health data. At the Durham, N.C.-based research institute, Duke researchers are leveraging Cerner's network to analyze the use and impact of proven therapies for cardiovascular disease.

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