DeepMind’s Streams team to join Google

The news follows last week's announcement that Geisinger CEO Dr David Feinberg would join the company to chart its healthcare strategy.
By Leontina Postelnicu
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Credit: Roberto La Rosa/ Shutterstock.com

The team behind the development of the Streams mobile app will be joining Google, DeepMind Health has confirmed, nearly a week after it was announced that Geisinger CEO Dr David Feinberg was taking on a new role to chart the tech giant’s healthcare strategy.

DeepMind, primarily a research organisation founded in London by Mustafa Suleyman, Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg in 2010, was bought by Google in 2014 for an estimated £400m.

The Streams team will now become part of Google Health, although they will remain in London and continue to be led by former NHS surgeon and researcher Dr Dominic King.

DeepMind Health submitted an initial ethics application to the NHS Health Research Authority in 2015 for a research project to "create improved techniques of data analysis and prediction" that would help clinicians spot Acute Kidney Injury (AKI), using de-personalised patient data. However, the company did not go ahead with any research or AI development projects with the Royal Free, and King explained last year:

“The more time we spent with the clinicians at the Royal Free, the more it became obvious that their most urgent problems were not going to be solved by using AI to develop a better algorithm alone [compared to the national algorithm]. They made it clear to us that their core challenge was in how you actually implement an algorithm to change the way care is delivered in practice,” he wrote in a blog

“Those early meetings our team had with clinicians at the Royal Free changed our perspective about what was most needed to improve care for conditions like AKI.  We shifted our focus away from AI research at the Royal Free and focused solely on building a tool - Streams - that would address the more urgent problem of rapidly responding to specific patient alerts in a coordinated way.”

Streams, which is registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, has therefore been developed with clinicians at the Royal Free, and it now allows doctors and nurses to access information about their patients’ care on a mobile phone, sending urgent alerts in case their condition is getting worse. 

The app does not currently use AI, however, with its team now joining Google, King, Suleyman and Hassabis wrote this week that their vision was for the app to “become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere”.

According to information publicly available, the app is currently only in use at the Royal Free, although it will be made available to clinicians at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust “in due course”.

The team is now expected to work closely with NHS partners to plan their transition. 

“As a research organisation, DeepMind will continue to work on fundamental health research with partners in academia, the NHS and beyond. When we have promising results that could have impact at scale, we’ll work closely with the Streams and translational research teams at Google on how to implement research ideas into clinical settings,” they added in a blog shared on Tuesday. 

Data privacy concerns and DeepMind's relationship with parent company Alphabet

Their announcement reignited a debate around the privacy of patients’ data. 

“The public is rightly concerned about what happens with patient data. I want to be totally clear. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions – nothing more,” King wrote on Twitter yesterday, explaining that their contracts had not moved to Google “at this stage", and that no changes would be made “until Trusts/hospitals consent and undertake any necessary engagement, including with patients”.

In June, a panel of independent reviewers raised questions about DeepMind’s relationship with parent company Alphabet.

“We recommend that DeepMind Health should be transparent about its business model,” panelists wrote, “that DeepMind Health specify exactly how they will work with other elements of Alphabet, and what data could ever be transferred to them.”

Twitter: @1Leontina
Contact the author: lpostelnicu@himss.org

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