NHS Google DeepMind deal scrutinised in report

A report, published in Health Technology, examining the deal between London’s Royal Free Hospital and DeepMind has raised concern that there are serious ‘inadequacies’ with the agreement.

The deal involved sharing over a million patient records with DeepMind to build an too to alert doctors about patients at risk of acute kidney injury (AKI). However, authors of the report outlined that it was ‘inexcusable’ that patients were not told how their data would be used, after it was revealed the deal did not become public until three months after data had started being collected.

In their report, Hal Hodson, a former New Scientist journalist, and co-author Julia Powles, a Cambridge University academic, highlighted: “Why DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company wholly owned by data mining and advertising giant Google, was a good choice to build an app that functions primarily as a data-integrating user interface, has never been adequately explained by either DeepMind or Royal Free.”

The paper questioned whether DeepMind could be considered a mere data processor when it developed an app - Streams - that had direct impact on patient care. It also warned that there was an absence of oversight or legally binding documents about how the data would be used and questioned whether the device was correctly registered with regulators.

Responding to the report, DeepMind and the Royal Free issued a joint statement: "This paper completely misrepresents the reality of how the NHS uses technology to process data. It makes a series of significant factual and analytical errors, assuming that this kind of data agreement is unprecedented.

"In fact, every trust in the country uses IT systems to help clinicians access current and historic information about patients, under the same legal and regulatory regime."

The obvious fact is that we care about Google and DeepMind getting into healthcare because it is a break from the norm. These companies are entirely different to specialised health IT and infrastructure providers, and the sweeping analogy does a disservice to the public."

The news comes as the Streams app is currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office.

In a statement, the ICO said: "Our investigation into the sharing of patient information between the Royal Free NHS Trust and Deep Mind is close to conclusion.

"We continue to work with the National Data Guardian and have been in regular contact with the Royal Free and Deep Mind who have provided information about the development of the Streams app.

"This has been subject to detailed review as part of our investigation. It's the responsibility of businesses and organisations to comply with data protection law."

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