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Google DeepMind inks 5-year agreement with NHS for 'Streams' app

Patient data access concerns prompts ICO probe

DeepMind Health, the healthcare arm of the artificial intelligence business owned by Google, has signed a deal with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to provide an app called Streams.

The deal, which establishes a five-year partnership between the organisations, builds on DeepMind Health's pilot project with the Trust to build Streams, which DeepMind describes as an app which will alert "clinical teams as soon as test results show that a patient is at risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI)".

Following criticism when DeepMind was given a million retinal scans by Moorfields Eye hospital, one of the world's leading ophthalmology research centres, the UK's data protection authority is paying close attention to the deal.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's Office told The Register: "Our investigation into the sharing of patient information between the Royal Free NHS Trust and Deep Mind is ongoing. We are working with the National Data Guardian to ensure the project complies with the Data Protection Act.

"We’ve been in contact with the Royal Free and Deep Mind who have provided information about the development of the Streams app," the spokesperson continued, noting: "It’s the responsibility of businesses and organisations to comply with data protection law."

Streams is DeepMind's healthcare app, which while currently focused on alerting clinicians to AKI is planned to be expanded to cover "other illness where early intervention is key and technology can ensure this [intervention] happens" by automating the collection of patients' data and running it through DeepMind's proprietary software.

Although a prototype has been created and successfully tested, and Streams being registered with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), many have stated their concerns ahead of its being roll-out to clinicians across the Royal Free hospital sites early in 2017.

Among those critics is Julia Powles, an academic focusing on technology law and policy at the University of Cambridge. According to the Financial Times Powles "has spent six months on a forthcoming article about 'DeepMind Health and its dubious access to the highly sensitive patient records of millions of unwitting Londoners'."

The pink 'un quoted Powles as saying:

DeepMind/Google are getting a free pass for swift and broad access into the NHS, on the back of persuasive but unproven promises of efficiency and innovation.

We do not know — and have no power to find out — what Google and DeepMind are really doing with NHS patient data, nor the extent of Royal Free's meaningful control over what DeepMind is doing.

DeepMind's co-founder and head of applied AI, Mustafa Suleyman, explained to the FT that the business received only "a modest service fee" to supply the software, and mostly monetised its application by being paid per improved patient outcome, although it is unclear how this would be measured.

Additionally, Suleyman was keen to stress that the service would allow room for other vendors to be involved in the analysis of the data should the NHS Trust seek to engage with them.

He added that DeepMind was "developing an unprecedented new infrastructure that will enable ongoing audit by the Royal Free, allowing administrators to easily and continually verify exactly when, where, by whom and for what purpose patient information is accessed."

This infrastructure is being developed by Ben Laurie, who joined DeepMind earlier this year. Laurie is described as "one of the world's leading security engineers" by Suleyman.

The co-founder said: "We think that Streams could also be used to help patients at risk from sepsis and other causes of organ failure, where signs of deterioration are often difficult for clinicians to spot, and where early intervention can be the difference between life and death."

Watch that space. ®

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