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Legislators Want Answers On Google Medical Data Collection

doctor and patient

A trio of senators are unhappy with Google's response to queries about its healthcare initiative “Project Nightingale,” saying Google has evaded real in-depth answers on its partnership with Ascension, a large healthcare company, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Bill Cassidy and Elizabeth Warren wrote to Ascension, which is based in St. Louis, and said they were unhappy with the disclosures about the project, which involves collecting and analyzing personal health information of millions of patients. The Journal revealed the secret project in November.

The senators also wrote Alphabet, Google’s parent company, asking for information including the number of patients involved, who had access to the data and how much of it was shared.

Dr. David Feinberg, the head of Google Health, responded in December but only with generalities, and not details.

“Though Google began its response by telling us that the company was ‘proud to provide more details on Google’s work supporting Ascension,’ the response ultimately did not provide us with all of the information we asked for,” the senators wrote in response.

In January, Feinberg said his division was trying to help patients and also reduce the use of paperwork, foster better communication through caregivers and lead people to treatments.

Earlier this year, Ascension fired an employee who called themselves a whistleblower and expressed concern to the media over the nature of Project Nightingale. The whistleblower was told they’d shared secret information.

Ascension spokesperson Nick Ragone would not say why that employee was fired, but said per the report, “We have never terminated anyone for talking to media/lawmakers/regulators.”

He said Ascension had “met with numerous elected officials and staff over the past few months on our collaboration with Google,” in terms of “the work we’re doing to transform the clinician experience and to improve patient outcomes.”

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has also started an inquiry, into the “mass collection of individuals’ medical records.”

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