The NY Times, CNN, and WSJ have all reported this week that the tech giant Google is working with the second-largest health care system in the US, Ascension, to store medical records for millions of patients – including information like lab results, diagnoses, and less common or serious conditions like skin rashes. Called “Project Nightingale” the initiative will be used to create software that helps medical providers to analyze, treat and even predict their patients’ conditions. This sounds all well and good but critics like Syndey Russel worry about patient privacy. The technology writer recently wrote in The Atlantic:
“The Fitbit acquisition seems quaint compared with news of Google’s latest endeavor. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Google had secretly harvested “tens of millions” of medical records—patient names, lab results, diagnoses, hospitalization records, and prescriptions—from more than 2,600 hospitals as part of a machine-learning project code-named Nightingale. Citing internal documents, the Journal reported that Google, in partnership with Ascension, a health-care provider operating in 20 states, was planning to build a search tool for medical professionals that would employ machine-learning algorithms to process data and make suggestions about prescriptions, diagnoses, and even which doctors to assign to, or remove from, a patient’s team.”
Apple is also harvesting Americans’ health data, but in a different way. It is teaming up with Harvard to conduct a huge study of women’s health using information from iPhones and Apple Watches. The program’s latest goal is to recruit over a million women participants to download an app that will track their health data over a ten year period (participants can opt in or out of which types of data to share) and allows researchers to monitor their menstrual cycles, fertility, heart rate and other heart patters. There are concerns about personal information falling into the wrong hands, despite Apple’s assurances that the technology was designed to meet HIPAA standards for safeguarding health records.