Google’s Project Nightingale: Why Google has access to millions of health care records now

What is it? First reported by the Wall Street Journal, Google is partnering with Ascension. Ascension is the second largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and with the deal struck now allows Google to collect and analyze millions of their users’ detailed medical records. The secretive health initiative was monikered ‘Project Nightingale’ and allows Google access to health records, names, and addresses without telling patients or doctors. Ascension is partnered with over 2,600 hospitals in America. 

What Google and Ascension have said: Ascension said in a press release, the deal between the two sides is meant to help Ascension modernize its infrastructure and develop new care models delivered by apps, digital platforms, and other health care services used daily by a lot of users. They are using Google cloud and web services to optimize the digital part of their business, while Google is using Ascension data to help design and build new health-care related software and technology. 

Privacy concerns: In the same release, Ascension tried to ease privacy and legal concerns stating, “All work related to Ascension’s engagement with Google is HIPAA compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling.” HIPAA generally allows hospitals to share and sell data to business partners if it is used to help maximize health care service. Google also attempts to ease privacy concerns on their blog stating, “To be clear… patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.” 

However, the deal has drawn lots of skepticism and criticism from experts who argue this deal is stripping patients of control over their own data. Even Google forthright stating they will not use this data with other data collected by Google has to be met with skepticism because Google is constantly refining and changing their data collecting algorithms. Ascension is not Google’s only attempt to gain access to consumers’ personal health data though.

Google also recently purchased fitbit for $2.1 billion on November 1. The Fitbit acquisition along with the Ascension deal, make Google’s move into healthcare data more questionable and alarming as it seems they have the pieces to map your health records to real-time biometrics. Protecting patients’ privacy and information must become more prevalent to health care providers when trying to optimize the efficiency and health care services provided by their businesses.