The deal between Google and the U.K. National Health Service was profiled by Digital Journal last November
. The agreement centered on plans to develop a platform capable of sharing patient data with the aim of improving patient outcomes. This was by providing information about medical conditions with the aid of artificial intelligence. A secondary aim was to reduce the amount of paperwork
by digitizing patient records.
One aspect of the project involve sharing some million patient records, provided by London's Royal Free Hospital, with DeepMind
. This was to help develop an app to alert doctors about patients at risk of acute kidney injury. It is this aspects, in relation to patient confidentiality, that has been been criticized. Writing in the journal Health and Technology
("Google DeepMind and healthcare in an age of algorithms
"), Hal Hodson and Julia Powles write:
Why DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company wholly owned by data mining and advertising giant Google, was a good choice to build an app that functions primarily as a data-integrating user interface, has never been adequately explained by either DeepMind or Royal Free.
Within the paper, according to an analysis by the BBC
, they raise:
Questions about whether DeepMind should be considered a mere data processor when its developed an app - Streams - has direct impact on patient care.
Concerns over the absence of oversight or legally binding documents stating how the data would be used (which is linked to what patients were and were not told).
Questions about whether the device was correctly registered with regulators.
These issues are disputed by both the hospital and Google, who together state there are "significant factual and analytical errors" with the new paper. They go onto say
"this paper completely misrepresents the reality of how the NHS uses technology to process data."
All partied have been encouraged to discuss the issue in an open forum. Digital health is increasing in coverage and the issues raised cross the boundaries between technology and social policy.