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Verify: Does Ascension's partnership with Google on patients' records violate federal privacy laws?

Google said that information will be matched with artificial intelligence to help with research and case management.


A St. Louis-based healthcare company made national headlines this week when they entered a controversial agreement with Google.

Ascension confirmed Google will provide their family of hospitals a digital portfolio for patient medical records.

Ascension Healthcare is the largest nonprofit hospital system in the country. It might be easier to list off what Google doesn't do versus what they do, but most of it involves data collection.

Google said the partnership will modernize Ascension's records program.

We should note, the Obama Administration required a majority of healthcare records be digitized back in 2014, so that part isn't new.

Here's what is: the Wall Street Journal reports the medical information that Google has obtained, "amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth."

Google said that information will be matched with artificial intelligence to help with research and case management.

But does possessing that information violate federal patient confidentiality laws?

Our sources for this story include the U.S. Legal Code and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Patient confidentiality was passed into law in 1996 under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

On the HHS website, you see two tabs.


You're probably familiar with the rights for individuals that doctors can't openly reveal your name or health history outside of work, and that they must securely file your health information.

However, the rules are different for so-called "business associates."

The law states that health providers can disclose protected health information to business associates like Google, as long as they follow these rules:

  1. It uses the information only for the purposes it was hired for.
  2. It will safeguard the information against misuse.

So we can verify that the Google-Ascension partnership is legal, according to patient privacy laws. That is, as long as Google isn't using the information outside of what they were hired to do.

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