Society of Bioethics and Medicine
Google Health: Do Tech Giants Belong in Healthcare?
By - Elizabeth Katanov, Edited By - Lok-Yee Lam
In November 2019, Tech giant Google partnered with Ascension, one of America’s largest health systems, to streamline the access of patient data. Although the software is still in its pilot phase and not yet available for clinical use, early models of the product worked on by both parties depict a compiled data platform, akin to Google products like Drive and Sheets, that would house all a patient’s information in one place. The simple layout utilizes multiple tabs and organizational tools that allow data to be found efficiently, making it easier for physicians to track changes in values found in blood tests and other samples, as well as keep track of immunizations, evaluations, observations, medications, and other health proceedings (Rajkomar 2019). The partnership would also involve Ascension moving its infrastructure to Google Cloud and adopting the G Suite productivity software.
Although an exciting initiative for healthcare workers who want to spend less time searching for data, many are raising questions about privacy concerns. In the eyes of the general public, Google is already notorious for selling user data to companies. Hence today’s idea of ‘personalized advertisements’ that result from the browsers’ ability to literally keep tabs on what products someone would be interested in and the people they are most likely to listen to (Singer and Wakabayashi, 2019). Health information is far more sensitive than one’s preferences to a shoe brand, however, and some are worried that people other than health care professionals (such as Google employees) would be able to access and retain private health records.
Another concern is the added potential for violation of the federal privacy law ‘HIPAA,’ or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This legislation limits the way that health systems, associated businesses, and health care professionals approach protected health information, or PHI (University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2020). Moving all information to one place would provide ease for clinicians but may also introduce new possibilities for data breaches and hackers interested in holding data hostage.
According to the “Inside Google Cloud” blog, the company answered many questions regarding privacy concerns. Google mentioned that data is “logically siloed to Ascension,” meaning data from Ascension health records is only available between Ascension users. This promises an encrypted virtual space. Additionally, information can’t be shared between clients; for example, hospital A cannot view information about patients from hospital B, even if they share the same patient (Shaukat 2019). In other words, the information would not be public, and would only be available to providers within the same company.
This enterprise is certainly spearheading a new age where medicine becomes one with technology. As tech giants attempt to become more involved in the world of health, it is important we don’t begin to blur the line between data privacy and healthcare. It is only through this reassessment that we may cautiously introduce new technology that would provide a more wholesome experience both for providers and their patients.
Rajkomar, Alvin (2019, November 19). Google Health – Tools to Help Healthcare Providers Deliver Better
Care. Google. https://health.google/for-clinicians/clinical-search-tools/
Shaukat, T. (2019, November 11). Our Partnership With Ascension. Inside Google Cloud.
Singer et al. (2019, November 11). Google to Store and Analyze Millions of Health Records. The New
The University of Massachusetts Medical School (2020). What is PHI?