Judge dismisses data sharing lawsuit against University of Chicago, Google

shows the physical exterior of Google's headquarters building
A lawsuit, now dismissed, claimed the University of Chicago Medical Center disclosed a patient's confidential medical information to Google and that the hospital did not "properly de-identify the patient's medical health records." (achinthamb/Shutterstock)

A federal judge has tossed out a patient data privacy lawsuit filed against the University of Chicago Medical Center and Google over its data sharing partnership.

On Sept. 4, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the United States District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division dismissed the lawsuit, ruling (PDF) that the patient who filed the suit failed to adequately demonstrate the damages suffered as a result of the partnership. 

The judge's decision is a victory for Google, which is facing scrutiny over a similar deal with Ascension.

Three years ago, UChicago Medicine announced it was teaming up with Google to study ways in which to use electronic medical records to make discoveries that could improve the quality of healthcare. 

The collaboration would focus on using machine learning techniques to predict hospitalizations and identify instances where a patient’s health is declining, the University of Chicago announced in May 2017.

RELATED: Google defends use of patient data on Capitol Hill among scrutiny of Ascension deal

In June 2019, UChicago, its medical center and Google were sued in a potential class-action lawsuit accusing the hospital of sharing hundreds of thousands of patient records with the tech giant that retained identifiable date stamps and doctors' notes. 

The lawsuit (PDF) was filed by Chicago-based law firm Edelson PC on behalf of a former UChicago Medicine patient.

According to the lawsuit, Matt Dinerstein was admitted to the hospital for two stays in June 2015. The lawsuit claims UChicago disclosed Dinerstein's confidential medical information to Google and that the hospital did not "properly de-identify the patient's medical health records and included date stamps associated with his procedures as well as free-text notes from his doctors and nurse."

Both Google and UChicago have said the collaboration only involved de-identified data from medical records. The data sharing collaboration involved patients seen at UChicago from 2009 to 2016.

In August 2019, Google and UChicago Medicine filed motions to dismiss the class-action lawsuit, arguing they used HIPAA-complaint data sharing processes and that the patient had shown no evidence of harm caused by the data sharing.

The judge ruled that Dinerstein has not "adequately pleaded that the University’s breach of contract caused him economic damages," according to the ruling.

RELATED: Lawsuit accuses University of Chicago of sharing identifiable patient data with Google

The judge also rejected Dinerstein's claims that his medical records have commercial value to him and were stolen.

"Even if Mr. Dinerstein has a property interest in medical information, his allegations do not support an interference that the value of that property has been diminished by the University's or Google's actions," the judge's decision states.

Partnerships between health systems and tech companies are becoming fairly common as the healthcare industry pushes forward to use data analytics and machine learning to improve clinical diagnosis and better predict disease. Hospitals at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco have also struck deals with Google.

Senators are pressing Ascension for more details about its controversial data deal with Google.

The lawmakers—Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana—sent a letter (PDF) to Ascension President and CEO Joseph Impicciche back in March. The letter demands more information regarding the type and amount of information the health system has provided to Google, whether the health system provided advance notice to patients about the deal and whether patients can opt out of data sharing. 

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