Google's DeepMind gains access to health info for 1.6M NHS patients

As part of a recently announced partnership with the United Kingdom's National Health Service, Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind has gained access to healthcare information for 1.6 million patients across three hospitals, New Scientist reports.

The agreement, according to New Scientist, gives DeepMind data that spans back five years, and notes that the company will create an analytics-based clinical decision prediction tool known as Patient Rescue.

"What Deepmind is trying to do is build a generic algorithm that can do this for anything--anything you can do a test for," Sam Smith of the privacy group MedConfidential tells New Scientist.

The article notes that privacy concerns likely will persist, given that the information includes logs of daily hospital activities for individual patients, in addition to pathology and radiology results. Harvard researchers have shown that patients can be re-identified with just their Zip code, date of birth and gender, along with other publicly available data such as voter rolls.

Neither the expert determination method nor the safe harbor method of de-identifying patient data are 100 percent effective, according to guidance released in November 2012 by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office for Civil Rights. 

Google, the article continues, does not plan to commercialize DeepMind's work, and must destroy its copy of the information at the end of September 2017, when the agreement concludes.

On a panel at the Harvard Business School Healthcare Conference earlier this year, Adam Koppel, vice president of corporate development and strategy at Biogen, said he believes Google's goal is ultimately to replace the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as the biggest payer in the U.S.

To learn more:
- read the New Scientist article