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Google Makes Large Step into Medical Informatics


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Google has entered into an agreement with the National Health Service, the medical provider for residents of England, which involves sharing a large part of the United Kingdom’s total patient data.  The agreement is extensive, including sharing historical medical data, current medical tests, pathology, and radiology results, surgery, patient visits (including which staff sees the patient and when), treatments, and other minutiae.  The agreement is limited in time, however, and Google must destroy all data that it retains at the end of 2017.  In addition, Google is bound not to use any of the information it derives for commercial purposes (directly.)

The Google company is called DeepMind and it has made an agreement with the Royal Free NHS (National Health Service) Trust to share data on the 1.6 million people who pass through three hospitals in the UK each year: Barnet, Chase Farm, and the Royal Free.  DeepMind is using an application called Streams to organize the data for the hospital so they can view it more easily and an application called Patient Rescue that predicts medical outcomes based on large data sets that can’t be visualized by individual doctors.

There is a huge amount of patient data involved, but only for a limited time, and Google will make the best of its analytical capabilities, honed through years of handling data and data requests, to create software engines that will use patient data to make predictions as to outcomes.  Treatments will be included in the analytics.  The possibilities of having enormous analytical capability honed with millions of patient-years of experience are exciting.

The medical applications that Google intends to create are not expected to replace clinical decisonmaking; instead,  “It’s about how can we bring the attention of medics to the right place.”

The risks of misuse of the patient data are also significant, but in this particular case, Google has gone a long way towards insuring against malign use.  The contract includes numerous limitations.  The patient dataset will be stored in the UK in a separate company from DeepMind, and according to contract, DeepMind must destroy its copy of the patient data when the contract ends in September 2017.  The agreement states that “Google cannot use the data in any other part of its business.”

(This information was sourced from a New Scientist article)


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