Google DeepMind, NHS announce new agreement to address data sharing concerns

By Jonah Comstock
11:28 am

DeepMind, Google's UK-based AI subsidiary, has signed a new agreement with the NHS after the pair's February deal was scrutinized over the amount and type of patient data Google would have access to. An investigative report by the New Scientist revealed that Google would have access to a huge trove of patient data without the patients' express consent, a potential violation of NHS information governance principles. With the new announcement, DeepMind is taking care to avoid a repeat of that situation with a host of new data protections.

The new agreement is a five-year partnership with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. It will be a deployment of DeepMind's Streams app, which helps doctors get information about their acute kidney failure patients –  including blood tests– faster, which will enable faster diagnostics in situations where time is of the essence. Once the app gets through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (similar to the United States' FDA), DeepMind plans to roll it out to NHS hospitals in early 2017. Then, they'll start to expand the app beyond just acute kidney failure.

"Over the course of the next five years, we’re going to expand Streams to cover other illness where early intervention is key and technology can ensure this happens," Mustafa Suleyman, head of Applied AI at DeepMind, wrote in a blog post. "We think that Streams could also be used to help patients at risk from sepsis and other causes of organ failure, where signs of deterioration are often difficult for clinicians to spot, and where early intervention can be the difference between life and death. We also plan to build additional features that Royal Free clinicians have asked for, including messaging and clinical task management that will support better care."

As for addressing the data access concerns, DeepMind will log all data collected and used and subject it to review by a panel of nine independent reviewers. In addition, Ben Laurie, co-founder of the OpenSSL project, has been hired to build a system that will allow the Royal Free to audit Google's use of patient information on an ongoing basis.

Finally, as TechCrunch reports, there's an increased level of transparency about the exact nature of the partnership, with various FAQs and documents available on the Streams website. TechCrunch points out that all of these changes don't necessarily address the core complaint from this past winter: that a large volume of patient data that isn't directly relevant to care is being shared with a third party without patient consent or the option of an opt out.

Also unclear: exactly when this AI company is going to start offering a product that actually uses AI. Streams remains a clinical infrastructure play, though it could certainly get DeepMind's foot in the door to start using this data in more interesting ways in the future.

"When it’s fully built, we believe that this will speed up the time to alert nurses and doctors to patients in need down from hours to a few seconds," Suleyman wrote. "And by freeing up clinicians’ time from juggling multiple pager, desktop-based and paper systems, it should redirect over half a million hours per year away from admin and towards direct patient care at the Royal Free alone."

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