Personal health and medical data are a valuable commodity for a number of sectors from public health agencies to academic researchers to pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, “big data” companies are increasingly interested in tapping into this resource. One such firm is Google, whose subsidiary Deep Mind was granted access to medical records on 1.6 million patients who had been treated at some time by three major hospitals in London, UK, in order to develop a diagnostic app. The public discussion it raised was just another sign of the long‐going tensions between drug companies, privacy advocates, regulators, legislators, insurers and patients about privacy, consent, rights of access and ownership of medical data that is generated in pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' surgeries. In addition, the rapid growth of eHealth will add a boon of even more health data from mobile phones, portable diagnostic devices and other sources.
These developments are driving efforts to create a legal framework for protecting confidentiality, controlling communication and governing access rights to data. Existing data protection and human rights laws are being modified to account for personal medical and health data in parallel to the campaign for greater transparency and access to clinical trial data. Healthcare agencies in particular will have to revise their procedures for handling medical or research data that is associated with patients.
Google's foray into medical data demonstrates the key role of health agencies, in this case the Royal Free NHS Trust, which operates the three London hospitals that granted Deep Mind access to patient data. Royal Free approached Deep Mind with a request to develop an app for detecting acute kidney injury, which, according to the Trust, affects more than one in six inpatients. The Trust declined to comment and referred to a prepared statement (https://www.royalfree.nhs.uk/news-media/news/google-deepmind-qa/) pointing out that the app called Streams improves …
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