The deal, struck with large hospital players, will allow the megaliths access to data under deals to crunch millions of patient records.
According to The Wall Street Journal, neither hospitals nor the tech giants explicitly disclosed the breadth of the data that would be shared when the deals were struck.
The story as WSJ reported it shines a light on the towering role hospitals play — effectively as brokers of data — when large companies are venturing into the healthcare industry, which is worth billions. The quick digitizing of healthcare records and the laws regarding privacy have enabled hospitals to act as primary gatekeepers of delicate and private data.
This issue has come into the spotlight before, even as recently as last year when Google came under fire after reports that they were using millions of people’s data to build a new search network. They denied it, saying all they had access to was patient information in order to organize things, nothing else.
Lisa Bari, a consultant and former lead with health information technology for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center, said data was a hot commodity, and that it essentially belongs to “whoever has it.” She said hospitals are allowed to share patient data so long as they’re not breaking any state rules.
Microsoft is working with Washington-based hospital system Providence to develop cancer algorithms using shared patient data, which hasn’t been stripped of identifying information. Describing their role in the project, Microsoft executive Peter Lee said the company didn’t intend to utilize patient information when at work on the algorithm.
Providence chief medical officer B.J. Moore said they didn’t intend to compromise patient data — but in some cases, they found they couldn’t remove everything from doctors’ notes when giving data to Microsoft.
And an agreement between IBM and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital from 2019 allows the Boston hospital to share personal information — although the hospital says they haven’t done that and have no plans to do so.
Under U.S. laws, data from patients can’t be shared unless it is needed for treatment, payment or hospital operations. And hospitals don’t have to let patients know when that ends up happening and their data is shared.
Vanderbilt University biomedical ethics professor Ellen Wright Clayton said patients “don’t have much control.”