- Google Health chief David Feinberg on Wednesday defended the controversial data sharing project between Google and Ascension, saying it is aimed at developing tools to help doctors better care for patients.
- Earlier this week, lawmakers announced they are requesting more details on the deal, including what and how much information is being shared and the extent to which Google employees had access to the data, as well as whether and how patients were being informed. HHS has previously said it will investigate the project.
- In a blog post, Feinberg said the data from Ascension is accessible in a strictly controlled environment to a limited number of Google staff who undergo HIPAA and medical ethics training and are approved by the health system.
Since the program dubbed Project Nightingale came to light last week, debate has raged over health data privacy, matters of patient consent and how clinicians should use data.
Feinberg, who was CEO of Geisinger before moving to Google a year ago, focused on the potential of data sharing to facilitate improved patient care by better collecting, processing and presenting patient information.
"I graduated from medical school in 1989. I've seen tremendous progress in healthcare over the ensuing decades, but this progress has also brought with it challenges of information overload that have taken doctors' and nurses' attentions away from the patients they are called to serve," he wrote. "I believe technology has a major role to play in reversing this trend, while also improving how care is delivered in ways that can save lives."
Project Nightingale received swift backlash when the Wall Street Journal first reported on its existence. It has sparked further consideration of an overhaul for HIPAA, which many contend lags behind in the digital age.
At the U.S. News & World Report's Healthcare of Tomorrow conference earlier this week, health IT executives called for an update to the law. "The safeguards provided for in HIPAA probably lack specific granularity and detail for the instances like the one we just saw unfold before us," Boston Children's Hospital CIO Dan Nigrin said.
In letters to Ascension and Google, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee call Project Nightingale a "disturbing initiative." They request a briefing by Dec. 6 on how "data is being used (including any use in the development of artificial intelligence tools) and shared, the extent to which employees at Google and its parent company Alphabet have access to this information, the extent to which patients were informed about the use and sharing of their data, and what steps are being taken to protect the privacy and security of patients' data."