Google Cloud to beef up HCA Healthcare's clinical, operational data analytics in new multiyear partnership

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Google Cloud will be helping the large for-profit system develop data algorithms and other tools to improve clinical care and streamline non-clinical tasks. It's the tech company's latest push to become providers' go-to analytics partner. (achinthamb/Shutterstock)

HCA Healthcare will be tapping Google’s data science expertise to develop new analytics capabilities around patient care and administrative workflows, the major health system announced this morning.

As part of a new multiyear strategic partnership, HCA will be using Google Cloud’s healthcare data products—such as the Google Cloud Healthcare API and BigQuery—to support custom-built analytics tools for use in various settings, the companies said.

By doing so, HCA hopes to deliver algorithm-based alerts to clinical staff’s mobile devices when a patient’s condition takes a turn for the worse. These new capabilities and other workflow tools will come to the 90,000 mobile devices HCA said that it has already deployed across its caregiver teams.

“Next-generation care demands data science-informed decision support so we can more sharply focus on safe, efficient and effective patient care,” Sam Hazen, CEO of HCA, said in a statement. “We view partnerships with leading organizations, like Google Cloud, that share our passion for innovation and continual improvement as foundational to our efforts.”

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The partners will also be looking to upgrade non-clinical operations that could benefit from data analytics and insights. HCA’s supply chain, human resources, physical plant operations were each named by the companies as potential areas of focus for those efforts.

HCA and Google Cloud’s announcement was rife with reassurances of data security and patient safety.

The tech company’s named analytics products are built to comply with HIPAA regulations. Further, all access to and use of patients’ data “will be addressed through the implementation of Google Cloud’s infrastructure along with HCA Healthcare’s layers of security controls and processes,” the partners wrote.

“The cloud can be an accelerant for innovation in health, particularly in driving data interoperability, which is critical in streamlining operations and providing better quality of care to improve patient outcomes,” Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, said in a statement. “We are honored to partner with HCA Healthcare on this unique opportunity to be at the forefront of advancing care through the power of real-time data availability to support clinical and operational workflows.”

HCA sees 32 million annual patient encounters among the nearly 200 hospitals and roughly 2,000 ambulatory care sites it operates across 20 states and the U.K. The for-profit system recently enjoyed a stronger-than-expected first quarter in which it generated $13.9 billion in revenues and $1.4 billion in profit.

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HCA characterized the new partnership as its latest push toward data-driven care, highlighting papers its researchers have published in peer-reviewed journals that describe similar algorithm-based clinical decision support tools.

The system also collaborated with Google Cloud last year on the COVID-19 National Response Portal, an open data platform intended to help hospitals and others understand how the novel virus was impacting hospitals.

The new data analytics partnership is the latest such deal between Google Cloud and a large provider. The tech company has been supporting Mayo Clinic’s digital innovation efforts since 2019 and just six months ago positioned itself as the lynchpin of Highmark Health’s new “Living Health” delivery model.

However, Google has also racked up a few privacy-related demerits in its race against Microsoft and Amazon Web Services to become the go-to cloud and analytics partner of the healthcare industry.

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Last year lawmakers pressed Google and Ascension on a controversial data deal announced in 2019, in which the health system shared personally identifiable information on millions of patients without first notifying those patients or their doctors. Ascension announced that it was continuing to move forward with that partnership a few months ago.

Another deal between Google and the University of Chicago Medical Center also drew data privacy critiques and a lawsuit—which was tossed out by a federal judge last September in a win for the tech giant.

In response to today’s announcement, Arielle Trzcinski, a principal analyst at Forrester who focuses on digital business in healthcare, reiterated the need for deidentification and other privacy measures with these types of analytics partnerships. She also stressed that any large-scale use of health data should, first and foremost, aim to benefit the patients who are contributing their sensitive information.

“Healthcare organizations and big tech need to be mindful of data governance in these initiatives,” she told Fierce Healthcare in a statement. “Do not collect data for the sake of collecting data—it must have a purpose; it must deliver value to the stakeholders benefiting from the output of the algorithm.”