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Google’s DeepMind Health ‘Secretive’ About Handling NHS Patient Data, Researchers Wonder Why

By Sounak Mukhopadhyay , Mar 17, 2017 05:02 AM EDT
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A group of researchers has questioned the intentions of Google's DeepMind Health, as there seems to be a lot of secrecy about how it deals with the UK National Health Service patient data. According to a recent report, the American tech company has made "inexcusable" errors while handling sensitive medical data. DeepMind has been allowed to access 1.6 million patients' medical information at NHS Royal Free Trust's London hospitals.

Google had a data-sharing agreement in 2015. However, that contract was superseded by a new one. The company said at that time it was mostly about identifying the patients who were suffering from AKI aka acute kidney injury. But, a New Scientist investigation in April 2016 revealed that the actual terms of the deal covered a much broader area.

Google's DeepMind Health was not restricted to accessing relevant diagnostics and blood tests. It has been allowed to historical medical data for the least five years. It has also been allowed to access information related to abortions, drug overdoses and HIV diagnoses, The Verge reported. Julia Powles, co-author of the report, said it had been a "flawed basis" which the company originally worked on. Powles believes DeepMind should face questions related to competition, public value and autonomy.

The Royal Free and DeepMind have responded to the report. They have accused the report of making "a series of significant factual and analytical errors." According to them, the report has totally misrepresented "the reality of how the NHS uses technology to process data."

The report about Google's DeepMind Health dealing with the UK National Health Service patient data was published in the journal Health and Technology. The authors of the report say that the accusations against it are "unfounded." They have asked the Royal Free and DeepMind to give their response in a public forum.

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