Deepmind, a company owned by Google, has been given access to the private healthcare records of up to 1.6 million patients from Barnet, Chase Farm and Royal Free hospitals. This information is being provided as part of an agreement with the Royal Free Trust in London to enable Deepmind to develop software which will alert staff to patients at risk of kidney failure.
The New Scientist has reported that the information provided is full patient data and so will include highly personal details of patients who are HIV positive, who have had abortions and suffered drug overdoses, for example.
The Royal Free Trust has defended the move by pointing out that this agreement is no different than thousands of other data sharing agreements NHS Trusts have with third party companies dealing with patient data and that the information will be encrypted.
Whilst the development of any software that can help patients and potentially save lives must be applauded, critics have noted that Google is collecting the full data of patients, not just data about kidney function, and questions must be asked as to how this data will be used and whether it is safe.
Patients can “opt-out” of having their data shared in this way, by contacting the Trust’s data protection officer, however, it is uncertain as to whether they even know that their data is being collated and used by multinational corporations. As with all healthcare issues, obtaining a patient’s informed consent must surely be a priority.