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Google has collected health data on millions of Americans through new partnership: report

Google has partnered with one of the largest health care systems in the country to collect data on millions of American patients, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

The venture, called Project Nightingale, allows Google to obtain access to personal health care data from Americans across 21 states through its partnership with Ascension, people familiar with the matter told the Journal, which also relied on internal documents for its report.

The data Google has access to includes lab results, doctor diagnoses, hospitalization records and health histories with names and date of births. Neither patients nor doctors were informed that Google was collecting the data, according to the Journal, and at least 150 Google employees have access to the information.

Ascension, based in St. Louis, is the second-largest health care system in the country. Google started the project with Ascension last year with the goal of using the data to create new software based on artificial intelligence and machine learning for patients to make their own recommendations for their care.

A press release from Ascension says the project is "underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort" and follows the company's requirements to protect information.

"As the healthcare environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and healthcare providers," Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president of strategy and innovations, said in the release. "Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve."

Tariq Shaukat, the president of industry products and solutions of Google Cloud, said Google is "proud" to work with Ascension.

The data will be used to move Ascension's "infrastructure" to the cloud, allow Ascension employees to utilize G Suite tools and extend tools to doctors and nurses to advance treatment, Shaukat said.

"To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension's data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we're offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data," the post states.

Big tech companies such as Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have all made efforts to dig into the health care industry, but they haven't reached a deal this extensive, according to the Journal. 

Questions have been raised about whether Google's actions broke federal law, but privacy experts say it doesn't.

The experts reference the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 that says data can be shared with business partners without consent of the patient "only to help the covered entity carry out its health-care functions," the Journal reported.

Updated at 8:52 p.m.

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