Google AI gains access to 1.2m confidential NHS patient records

Google has been given access to huge swatches of confidential patient information in the UK, raising fears yet again over how NHS managers view and handle data under their control.

In an agreement uncovered by the New Scientist, Google and its DeepMind artificial intelligence wing have been granted access to current and historic patient data at three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS Trust, covering 1.6 million individuals.

That would include any chronic illness people may be suffering from and the circumstances over why they were admitted – for example, if they have suffered a drug overdose. The agreement provides Google with access to data going back five years and is far more expansive than expected.

Google and DeepMind previously said they were working with the NHS on a product called “Streams” that would “present timely information that helps nurses and doctors detect cases of acute kidney injury.”

The agreement however provides access to all patient data, covering issues far beyond just kidney functioning. Google reportedly claimed that since there is not a specific subset of information regarding kidneys, it needed access to everything.

The idea behind the data sharing is that Google’s AI software may be able to identify patterns that can assist doctors and nurses in treating patients or in recognizing conditions earlier than normal.

The agreement includes a number of safeguards, including the fact that Google is not allowed to share the information beyond the specific project and must delete all data when the project ends in September 2017.

However, critics have already pointed to the fact that the hospital trust has not been upfront about the use of confidential patient information, has not informed patients that their personal information is being provided to a commercial entity, and has not provided patients with a reasonable way to opt-out of the data sharing.

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