Google’s DeepMind given access to NHS patient records

Google’s AI division DeepMind has been granted access to an estimated 1.6 million NHS patient records to help it develop an app for acute kidney injury (AKI).

A data-sharing agreement between Google and NHS England gives the tech giant access to patient records from the Royal Free, Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals in London, according to a report in New Scientist. The arrangement covers full data going back five years and continuing until September 2017, at which point Google is obliged to delete its copy of the data.

In February, DeepMind announced it was working with the NHS to develop an app related to AKI, called Streams, which would allow hospital staff to monitor patients’ risks of developing the condition, thought to contribute to around 20% of all hospital admissions (around a quarter of which are thought to be preventable).

The decision to give DeepMind access to such a vast dataset has been met with criticism, as it includes a lot of information seemingly unrelated to the development of the app. However, Google explained the need for general information due to a lack of specific information regarding kidney conditions. Google further clarified that the data would only be used to improve healthcare and that it would not be linked to any Google accounts or products.

A spokesperson for the Royal Free Trust said: “Our arrangement with DeepMind is the standard NHS information-sharing agreement set out by NHS England’s corporate information governance department, and is the same as the other 1,500 agreements with third-party organisations that process NHS patient data.

“As with all information sharing agreements with non-NHS organisations, patients can opt out of any data-sharing system by contacting the trust’s data protection officer.”

DeepMind also has access to information submitted to the UK’s treatment services database, the Secondary User Service (SUS) database. Patients can opt out of SUS data sharing too.

The data is to be stored by a third party in the UK and will remain encrypted to prevent the identification of individuals.

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