Well it is well known that the technology giant Google intends to enter into the healthcare marketplace, the extent of its collaboration with the NHS perhaps goes further than is generally publicly known.
Leaked documents indicate that Google has gained access to a significant amount of private NHS data.
And there seems to be an artificial intelligence motivation at the heart of this agreement.
A data-sharing agreement between Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust indicates that the company which is most associated with its search engine is making serious inroads into NHS patient data.
The agreement gives DeepMind access to a wide range of healthcare data on the 1.6 million patients who pass through three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS Trust annually.
While Google had already announced that DeepMind is indeed working with the NHS, the extent of the agreement goes far beyond what was presumed to be the case.
Sam Smith, who runs health data privacy group MedConfidential, indicated his belief that the data-sharing had gone well beyond what had previously been publicised.
“This is not just about kidney function. They’re getting the full data,” Smith outlined.
Although the agreement says that Google cannot use data in any other part of its business, there must be concerns regarding the implications of this data-sharing arrangements.
DeepMind is also obliged to delete its copy of the data when the agreement expires at the end of September 2017.
In a statement, the Royal Free NHS Trust indicated that it “provides DeepMind with NHS patient data in accordance with strict information governance rules and for the purpose of direct clinical care only.”
The official intelligence capabilities of Google were recently underlined by the defeat of a world-class Go player by a computerised AI bot developed by the company.
And it seems that Google has similar intentions to eventually predict information regarding human health.
“What DeepMind is trying to do is build a generic algorithm that can do this for anything – anything you can do a test for,” the aforementioned Smith asserted.
In terms of the wealth of information being made available to Google, this could be considered quite alarming.
It includes logs of day-to-day hospital activity, such as records of the location and status of patients – as well as who visits them and when.
The hospitals will also share the results of certain pathology and radiology tests.
While it should be stated in mitigation that there are potential benefits from this Google initiative, the dangers for the NHS are also apparent.
Ross Anderson of the University of Cambridge, who taught DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis as an undergraduate, notes that the technology actually has great potential for improving patient treatment.
“If learning about adverse health outcomes helps them to predict patients at risk, then this is a perfectly reasonable way to make money,” Anderson believes.
But Anderson also suggests that the monopoly of data that Google is apparently building must be considered a major concern for the future of the NHS.
“If Google gets a monopoly on providing some kind of service to the NHS it will burn the NHS,” says Anderson.