Google is gathering health data on millions of people: WSJ

The data involved in the project reportedly includes laboratory results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalisation records.

    The Wall Street Journal newspaper is calling Alphabet Inc's effort a 'secret project' to collect complete health histories for millions of Americans [File: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg]
    The Wall Street Journal newspaper is calling Alphabet Inc's effort a 'secret project' to collect complete health histories for millions of Americans [File: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg]

    Alphabet Inc's Google is teaming up with a healthcare company on a secret project to collect personal health-related information of millions of United States residents across 21 states, the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Monday.

    Google launched Project Nightingale last year with St Louis-based Ascension, according to the report, which cited people familiar with the matter and internal documents. Google and Ascension did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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    Google and Ascension announced later on Monday that they had signed a healthcare data and cloud computing deal, which would give Google access to the datasets it could use to tune potentially lucrative artificial intelligence tools.

    The partnership will also explore artificial intelligence and machine-learning applications to help improve clinical effectiveness as well as patient safety, Ascension said in a statement.

    Google Cloud Chief Executive Officer Thomas Kurian has made it a priority in his first year on the job to aggressively chase business from leaders in six industries, including healthcare.

    The company previously had touted smaller healthcare clients, such as the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine.

    Google has spent several years developing artificial intelligence to automatically analyse magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and other patient data to identify diseases and make predictions aimed at improving outcomes and reducing costs.

    Ascension, which operates 150 hospitals and more than 50 senior-living facilities across the US said the partnership was in compliance with the US data privacy act HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which safeguards medical information.

    The Journal reported that the data involved in the project includes laboratory results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalisation records, among other categories and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth.

    The news follows an earlier announcement from Google that it would buy Fitbit Inc for $2.1bn, aiming to enter the market for wearables and invest in digital health.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency