Google signs healthcare data and cloud computing deal with Ascension

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s GOOGL.O
Google has signed its biggest cloud computing customer in
healthcare to date, in a deal giving it access to datasets that
could help it tune potentially lucrative artificial intelligence
(AI) tools.

Google and Ascension, which operates 150 hospitals and more
than 50 senior living facilities across the United States, said
the healthcare provider would move some data and analytics tools
in its facilities to Google’s servers.

The deal was mentioned in Google’s July earnings call, but
drew scrutiny on Monday after the Wall Street Journal reported
that Google would gain personal health-related information of
millions of Americans across 21 states.

The Journal reported that the data involved in the project
includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization
records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete
health history, along with patient names and dates of birth.

Google said in a blog post on Monday that patient data
“cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.”

Ascension “are the stewards of the data, and we provide
services on their behalf,” wrote Tariq Shaukat, president for
industry products and solutions at Google Cloud.

In a press release, Ascension said the partnership is in
compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act (HIPPA) which safeguards medical information.

Google Cloud Chief Executive Officer Thomas Kurian has made
it a priority in his first year on the job to aggressively chase
business from leaders in six industries, including healthcare.

The company previously touted smaller healthcare clients,
such as the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine.

Though cloud storage is a business with thinning profit
margins, Google Cloud has said it hopes to separate itself from
larger rivals Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services with a
superior slate of high-margin AI tools.

Ascension said it aims to use AI to help improve clinical
effectiveness as well as patient safety.

Google’s blog post did not mention AI, but said the
companies were in “early testing” on how to make better use of
Ascension’s data.

Google has spent several years developing artificial
intelligence to automatically analyze MRI scans and other
patient data to identify diseases and make predictions aimed at
improving outcomes and reducing cost.

The news follows an earlier announcement from Google that it
would buy Fitbit Inc FIT.N for $2.1 billion, aiming to enter
the wearables segment and invest in digital health.

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