Royal Free: ‘No changes to data-sharing’ as Google absorbs Streams


Royal Free London has confirmed that there will be no changes to its data-sharing agreement with DeepMind after Google takes control of its Streams technology.

The trust said it would remain in control of the information generated by the app, used to detect early signs of acute kidney infection (AKI), adding that “nothing will change without our consent”.

A Royal Free spokesperson said: “Patient safety and patient confidentiality is our absolute priority and Streams is governed by the strictest guidelines and laws – as is all of the information we handle.”

“The Royal Free London has always been, and will always be, in control of the data we share with third parties. All data for Streams is stored securely in a UK-based data centre that has successfully passed NHS audits.

“There have been no changes to the way data is processed under our contract with DeepMind and nothing will change without our consent.

“We continue to work closely with the Streams team and are committed to developing the app which we know is supporting our doctors and nurses in improving the care we deliver to our patients.”

DeepMind 180?

Questions about the privacy of patient data have resurfaced after DeepMind revealed that its Streams team would be joining Google Health’s US unit.

The move appears somewhat of a contradiction to assurances made by DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, who in 2016 asserted that “at no stage will patient data ever be linked or associated with Google accounts, products or services.”

Under the new setup, the Streams team will remain in London, under the leadership of former NHS surgeon and researcher, Dominic King.

They will be aided by David Feinberg, who will lead Google’s Health unit starting in January.

King took to Twitter to address some of the concerns around patient data following the announcement.

Justified concerns

King told Digital Health he wanted to be “absolutely clear” that no contracts had been handed over to Google “at this stage”, nor would they be without the consent of Royal free partners.

“At this stage our contracts have not moved to Google and nothing has changed in terms of where the data we process is stored,” said King.

“The same applies to the data that we process under these contracts. All decisions about how patient data is processed will continue to lie with our partners, including our four NHS Streams partnerships.”

He added: “The public is rightly concerned about what happens with patient data. I want to be totally clear. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions – nothing more”

UK artificial intelligence start-up DeepMind was acquired by Google in 2014 for some £400m.

Its Streams technology links patient test result data to clinicians’ mobile devices and alerts them to individuals who could be in danger of suffering kidney failure. It has been widely praised by users, with some nurses labelling it “phenomenal”.

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