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Google strikes deal with hospital chain to develop healthcare algorithms

INTEGRITY BEAT - Henry Schumacker - The Freeman

Google expands health-sector presence in latest deal to develop tools to improve medical care, as privacy concerns arise.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and national hospital chain HCA Healthcare Inc. have struck a deal to develop healthcare algorithms using patient records, the latest foray by a tech giant into the $3 trillion healthcare sector.

HCA, which operates across about 2,000 locations in 21 US states, would consolidate and store with Google data from digital health records and internet-connected medical devices under the multiyear agreement. Google and HCA engineers will work to develop algorithms to help improve operating efficiency, monitor patients and guide doctors’ decisions, according to the companies.

“Data are spun off of every patient in real time,” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, chief medical officer of HCA, which is based in Nashville, Tenn. “Part of what we’re building is a central nervous system to help interpret the various signals.”

The deal expands Google’s reach in healthcare, where the recent shift to digital records has created an explosion of data and a new market for technology giants and startups. Data crunching offers the opportunity to develop new treatments and improve patient safety, but algorithm-development deals between hospitals and tech companies have also raised privacy alarms.

While it sounds very positive when Google’s artificial-intelligence unit says it has developed an algorithm that can predict who is at high risk of developing a common kidney condition.

The algorithm could predict the sudden deterioration of kidney function, called acute kidney injury, two days before the potential injury with 55.8% accuracy, according to a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday. For the more severe kidney injuries, like cases that later required dialysis, the accuracy was closer to 90%.

Some health-care-technology experts cautioned that such an algorithm would need further testing before being applied in a live hospital setting, which has a more diverse array of patients and often incomplete information about them.

Personally, I am not only concerned about the privacy of patients whose data are entered into the system. I am also frightened by the idea that Google will sell the information when new ‘deals’ appear at the horizon. The ‘deal’ at the moment is limited to the United States. Let’s assume, Google finds a partner hospital organization in the Philippines and introduces the same kind of ideas. I would not agree. Would you?

I am deeply interested in your feedback. Contact me at hjschumacher59@gmail.com

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