In recent years, we’ve encountered a new type of data privacy issue that simply wasn’t on the table several years ago. As a society increasingly dependent on devices, apps, and social media to communicate and carry out our daily life tasks, we are now privy to the fact that the companies behind these apps and various forms of media possess a vast amount of data about each one of us, ranging from basic personal information to patterns of consumer behavior.
While the fact that major tech companies have access to personal information is unnerving for some - notably in the wake of controversies like Cambridge Analytica - it’s important to note that the use of data can help drive progress in a number of ways.
In the past few weeks, the world has come to learn about Google’s newest project called ‘Nightingale:’ an initiative that has allowed Google to gain access to millions of pieces of health data. What exactly is going on, and what are the potential consequences of protected data being in the hands of one of the largest tech companies in the world? Iron Bridge - a leader among healthcare technology companies - is here to break it down for you.
Google’s Nightingale: What We Know
The Acquisition of Millions of Electronic Medical Records from Ascension
On November 11th, 2019, Google announced a new program called ‘Nightingale:’ an initiative set forth that Google claims is designed to improve the quality of patient care in an otherwise non-disclosed manner. These efforts have been spearheaded by the acquisition of medical records of more than 50 million people spanning across 21 states from Ascension hospital network.
Within 48 hours of its announcement, Nightingale came under backlash from federal regulators from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is now investigating whether Google’s partnership with Ascension violates HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA is designed to protect patients from the use, discussion, and sharing of identifiable health information. However, some of the information that was shared with Google during this data exchange is believed to be identifiable, and therefore in violation of HIPAA, which could lead to serious legal problems for Google and Ascension, stopping project Nightingale dead in its tracks if found to be substantiated by evidence.
The Public Weighs in On Google & Ascension’s Partnership
How Healthcare, Technology Companies, and Data May Work Together
There is a lot of discussion going on about what exactly the end goal of Nightingale may be. Some suggest that Nightingale could be Google’s effort to build a tool that revolutionizes the way we sort through EMRs. This would not only aid physicians and hospital managers in their ability to share health records and information, but may serve as a way for research to be done more efficiently.
Using medical records for research isn’t a new idea. Using medical records allows researchers to aggregate real-world data about drug interactions and side effects, care efficacy, and disease, leading to long-term effects of improved patient care: exactly what Google claims to be the end goal of this project. Large-scale analytics projects and AI that use information gathered from medical records could be the next major breakthrough in disease prevention, making this direction a meaningful and worthwhile project.
However, Google may struggle to gain the public support and trust needed for this type of initiative. Healthcare technology companies know that development needs to be approached with protections in place within the industry to carry out projects like this ‘the right way,’ and it’s going to be important for Google to develop a strategy to instill public trust in Nightingale and the steps it takes to complete this potentially life-changing project.
Google isn’t alone here. The use of EMD, or emergent medical data, has been used by tech companies for quite some time now to collect information from media and online behavior and outline identifiers for a number of health issues. For instance, Facebook collects EMD to identify users who may be at risk for suicide. EMD is also used by insurance companies to assess risk from their users. Google - in a simultaneous project - is working to patent smart home capabilities that mines data to help Alzheimer’s patients and those with substance abuse disorders.
The way that Google and other large tech companies have a tendency to function is ‘we have all of this data, now what should we do with it?’ When it comes to using healthcare data, however, Google will continue to walk a fine line of developing technology to improve healthcare and ensuring that they are not exploiting their power as a corporation to interfere with people’s private health information.
A Leader Among Healthcare Technology Companies Weighs In
How EMRs are Changing the Healthcare & Technology Industry
From person to person, you’ll learn about varying opinions regarding Google’s newest initiatives and the sociopolitical effects that it has on people, their privacy, and the healthcare industry. We live in a time in which the public has vast differences in the level in which we trust technology and tech companies. Additionally, people are continuously socialized to have differing opinions on the value of personal privacy versus the ability to grow and expand the scope of care for others within the healthcare industry.
The aggregation of medical records for technological growth, when done the right way and in compliance with the regulations set forth in the healthcare industry to protect patients and their rights, has the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat diseases. EMD can be tailored to aid in early detection of disease and to protect at-risk populations, and the ability to access information for research purposes opens up innumerable doors for medical advancement.
The use of EMRs has made these types of initiatives possible, perhaps in a way that was unforeseen during its own incipience. EMRs and EHRs allow for simple communication and the ability to access life-changing information to continue to improve the way we treat patients on small and global levels.
In the meantime, healthcare technology companies are hopeful for the direction that Google could take such a project and is even more hopeful that Google instills the values of privacy and patient rights that healthcare technology companies have been upholding for years. Ensuring that data sharing is done correctly, legally, and ethically is the key here, and has always been the ultimate priority maintained by Iron Bridge and its industry cohorts when looking for solutions to improve the healthcare industry and patient care as a whole.
Curious about how Iron Bridge has done its part in changing the way data is communicated within the healthcare industry? Learn more about Nuvola Hub and the world’s first transparently-priced EHR integration platform now.