Ascension allegedly shares health data with Google without the approval of patients or doctors.
One individual who was familiar with the project told the Journal that at least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients. The Catholic, non-profit has more than 34,000 providers across 21 states and the District of Columbia. On Monday, the nonprofit announced a partnership with Google to run Ascension's IT healthcare systems over the company's cloud computing services.
The data sharing with Ascension is likely permitted under United States federal law, however, as the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPA) Act allows hospitals and other healthcare providers to pass data to business partners without informing patients so long as it "help [s] the covered entity carry out its health care functions". But according to Ascension, the partnership with the search giant is HIPAA compliant and "underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort".
It will gather patients' test results, diagnoses and hospitalizations to give them a full digital health history.
It also said its data-sharing with Ascension is "standard practice in healthcare". Even so, many patients may not trust Google, which has paid multiple fines for violating privacy laws, with their personal medical details.
HHS didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and Ascension didn't comment on the HHS probe.
It's a known fact that Google, along with other major tech players like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, are increasingly trying to grab a slice of the $3 trillion dollar healthcare industry. Its recent acquisition of Fitbit is but one example of this strategy.
"Google is really doubling-down on healthcare", said Wedbush Research managing director Daniel Ives. But in this case, patients and doctors were not notified.
In a research paper published a year ago, the company said it had used electronic health record data of patients - including diagnoses, procedures and medications at the University of Chicago Medical Center - from 2009 to 2016.
Reed Abelson and Aaron Krolik contributed reporting.