Artificial intelligence firm DeepMind and a London hospital trust, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, have signed a five-year deal to develop a clinical app called Streams. The deal extends the already controversial partnership between the London-based startup, which was bought by Google in 2014, and the healthcare trust.
The Streams app is for healthcare professionals. According to the Financial Times, it will trigger mobile alerts when a patient’s vital signs or blood results become abnormal so that a doctor can intervene quickly and prevent the problem escalating.
The trust said that Streams has, thus far, been using algorithms to detect acute kidney injury, and added that it would
The aim is to use Streams as a diagnostic support tool for a far wider range of illness, including sepsis and organ failure.
OK, so that’s the what. Now for the controversial bit: the how…
The app quite obviously relies on access to patient data.
A story in New Scientist earlier this year raised concerns that the partnership had given DeepMind access to “a wide range of healthcare data on the 1.6 million patients … from the last five years”, and noted that the data will be stored in the UK by a third party and that DeepMind is obliged to delete its copy of the data when the agreement expires.
In a follow-up story published this week, New Scientist revealed that the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office began investigating the data-sharing agreement following its revelations. A statement from the office says that it is “working to ensure that the project complies with the Data Protection Act”.
But is that enough?
Privacy firms have raised concerns that medical records are being collected on a massive scale without the explicit consent of patients. Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, queried the value of the app:
Academics have also raised concerns.