How Google's deals with Ascension, Mayo Clinic, UCSF compare

There has been controversy around Google's partnerships with major health systems, as government leaders are unsure if patient data is secure.

Last November, The Wall Street Journal reported that employees at St. Louis-based Ascension were raising concerns about the way Google is collecting and analyzing personal health information of millions of the health system's patients. Ascension physicians and patients across 21 states had not been informed about the data sharing.

Google partnered with Ascension in 2018 to conduct its "Project Nightingale," which entails gathering patient information to create software that leverages artificial technology and machine learning to make suggestions in patients' treatment plans.

Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has also tapped Google to help support the health system's digital innovation initiatives. Through the partnership, Mayo Clinic will utilize advanced cloud computing, data analytics and storage, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to expand its virtual care, data-driven research and precision health programs.

Mayo Clinic has reassured patients that all patient information is under lock and key by physicians. However, that hasn't stopped questions from spurring.

Gianrico Farrugia, MD, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, noted that the partnership "will empower us to solve some of the most complex medical problems; better anticipate the needs of people we serve; and meet them when, where and how they need us. We will share our knowledge and expertise globally while caring for people locally and always do it with a human touch."  

The University of California San Francisco also signed a deal with Google to help the tech company develop artificial intelligence using patient data to predict outcomes. Through the collaboration — which is still ongoing, with a second academic paper based on their joint findings recently accepted for publication — Google obtained the de-identified EHR data of at least 1.4 million patients at no cost but with plenty to gain.

The contract reportedly limits how Google can use the data, prohibits the tech giant from attempting to re-identify the covered patients, requires Google to provide UCSF with a list of every employee with access to the dataset when asked and explicitly outlines how and where the data would be stored and encrypted.

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