Google granted access to 1.6m UK patient health records for 'research'

The artificial intelligence division of Google, DeepMind, has been granted access to around 1.6 million UK patient health records.

This agreement will allow Google to research and develop an 'early warning system' for patients who are at risk of developing acute kidney injuries. It will allow doctors to be able to more effectively diagnose the condition and find the right treatment much quicker than would have previously been possible.

As part of the agreement, Google will have access to a substantial amount of data, which includes the full names of patients, as well as their medical history; although, the data will be encrypted, so that Google employees are not able to match any piece of data with a specific person. Whilst employees will not have access to an unencrypted version of the data, Google has not ruled out the possibility of using the data for other medical related uses, citing that it will only be used for improving healthcare and will not be linked to any specific Google account or service.

Royal Free, one of National Health Service's (NHS) trusts providing the data, is believed to have approached Google to build the app. One other trust is also providing data: Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals. The data will date-back up to 5 years and will run up until 2017.

Sam Smith, one of the co-ordinators of the patient data campaign group, MedConfidential, raised concerns about the amount of data Google is receiving, and why this data is available to begin with:

The big question is why they want it. This a very rich data set. If you are someone who went to the A&E department, why is your data in this?

Acute kidney injuries (AKI) are estimated to be a contributing factor of up to 20% of all emergency hospital admissions. According to the NHS, around a quarter of these cases are preventable.

Source: New Scientist via BBC News | Image: NBC News

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