Hospitals have granted Microsoft, International Business Machines, and Amazon the ability to access identifiable patient information under deals to crunch millions of health records, reported the Wall Street Journal.
This breadth of access wasn’t always spelled out by hospitals and tech giants when the deals were struck.
The scope of data sharing in these and other recently reported agreements reveals a powerful new role that hospitals play—as brokers to technology companies racing into the US$3 trillion health-care sector. Rapid digitization of health records in recent years and privacy laws enabling companies to swap patient data have positioned hospitals as a primary arbiter of how such sensitive data is shared.
“Hospitals are massive containers of patient data,” said Lisa Bari, a consultant and former lead for health information technology for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center.
Hospitals can share patient data as long as they follow federal privacy laws, which contain limited consumer protections, she said. “The data belongs to whoever has it.”
Microsoft and Providence, a Renton, Washington, hospital system with data for about 20 million patient visits a year, are developing cancer algorithms by using doctor’s notes in patient medical records. The notes haven’t been stripped of personally identifiable information, according to Providence.
And an agreement between IBM and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, to jointly develop artificial intelligence allows the hospital to share personally identifiable data for specific requests, people involved in the agreement said—though so far the hospital hasn’t done so and has no current plans to do so, according to hospital and IBM officials.
Microsoft executive Peter Lee in July described how his company would use Providence patient data without identifying information for algorithm development. In a December statement, he said patients’ personal health data remains in Providence’s control and declined to comment further.
Want more news? Subscribe to CPI’s free daily newsletter for more headlines and updates on antitrust developments around the world.