Google’s healthcare ambitions now involve patient data

Google employees may have had access to hospital records, patient names.
Google employees may have had access to data including hospital records and patient names.
(Walter Bieri / Associated Press )

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is working with one of the biggest U.S. healthcare providers to develop new digital tools, giving the internet giant deep access to the personal health information of millions of Americans.

The partnership with Ascension, a nonprofit Catholic healthcare provider with more than 150 hospitals in 20 states, is wide-ranging and includes developing new software that uses artificial intelligence to improve patient outcomes, Ascension said Monday in a statement. The Wall Street Journal reported the partnership earlier and said the deal had originally been struck last year.

All sharing of information complies with federal privacy laws and Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling, the healthcare company said in the statement. The partnership hadn’t previously been disclosed, including to patients whose data may have been involved, the Journal reported. As part of the work, Google employees may have had access to data including hospital records and patient names, but the company declined to elaborate.

Google and other big tech companies have been pushing into healthcare in recent years. Apple Inc. asks its Apple Watch users to opt in to studies on heart rate, while Inc. has bought an online pharmacy and partnered with other corporations on a health venture called Haven. Google, for its part, has built a significant healthcare team and is experimenting with using artificial intelligence to improve healthcare.