Google’s health and cloud executives claim that the company isn’t misusing health data from one of the biggest U.S. health-care providers.
Google employees only have access to patient information in order to build a new internal search tool for the Ascension hospital network, said David Feinberg, head of Google Health. No patient data is being used for Google’s artificial intelligence research, he added.
Google's contract is governed by U.S. health privacy law that permits it access to patient records solely for the task of organizing Ascension’s various health records systems and building a tool to make them easier to search, Feinberg said.
“That’s all we’re allowed to do and that’s all we are doing,” he said.
Google’s deal with Ascension has been under scrutiny since the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday the company was collecting identifiable data on millions of Ascension patients and using it to build new products. On Tuesday, the paper reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office was starting an inquiry into the situation.
Ascension’s health data is being stored on Google Cloud servers but sequestered so only Ascension employees can access it, according to Google.
“All data is logically silo-ed to Ascension and housed within a virtual private space encrypted with dedicated keys,” Google said. “Google does not sell, share or otherwise combine data from Ascension with any other data.”
“We never actually have Google employees understand individual patients’ data when it goes into the model. We have other technologies that de-identify it,” Google said.