Google parent company's move to consolidate health records draws privacy concern

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Google parent Alphabet revealed plans to consolidate its artificial intelligence arm, DeepMind, with Google's newly formed health unit earlier this month. However, the move has sparked concerns about patient privacy, Bloomberg reports.

After previously pledging to keep DeepMind Health separate from Google, Alphabet said it plans to consolidate the two businesses. Critics of the move claim it raises concerns about the potential for patient data abuse and could cost patients and providers dearly if Alphabet later decides to convert the data into high-priced products, the report states.

DeepMind told Bloomberg it only processes patient data at the behest of its partner hospitals and that all data is "separated at all times from any other data" and stored in a facility not run by Alphabet. The company said the consolidation efforts would not affect the arrangement without agreement from participating hospitals.

A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg the company stands behind DeepMind's position.

Dominic King, MD, PhD, a former surgeon with the U.K.'s National Health Service who will join Google's new health unit, told Bloomberg the move to consolidate DeepMind into Google will help globalize the AI company's products and services faster than ever before. One of those products is Streams, an app designed to help physicians deliver better, faster care to patients and eventually become an AI-powered assistant for clinicians.

However, Bloomberg notes a downside of the move relates to DeepMind's questionable partnership with the NHS dating back to 2016. Critics of the partnership questioned whether DeepMind had obtained patients' consent to use their records for its projects. That controversy may complicate Alphabet's efforts to commercialize its own projects related to Google's health division, which will be run by Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger CEO David Feinberg, MD.

Ultimately, Alphabet's move to consolidate DeepMind and Google makes fiscal sense, Jeff Becker, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, told the publication.

"DeepMind is a research team, [while] Google is better set up to scale and monetize healthcare apps," he said.

To access the full report, click here.

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