Ascension expands pilot of Google EHR search tool

Dive Brief:

  • St. Louis-based hospital chain Ascension is expanding the pilot of a Google EHR tool allowing clinicians to search for data within patient records, the next step in its partnership with the technology giant.
  • The two linked in 2018 to work on leveraging Ascension’s clinical data to create an integrated, longitudinal record of patient care and develop other health tools. The partnership was made public in late 2019 and immediately stirred controversy, though using medical data to develop new product lines without patient consent is legal under current law.
  • The pilot testing an early release of Google’s search software started with a small group of doctors in Nashville, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida, according to a Tuesday blog post from Eduardo Conrado, Ascension’s EVP of strategy and innovations. The goal is to eventually make the clinical search tool available to all Ascension providers.

Dive Insight:

The fragmentation of health data is a huge problem for the U.S. healthcare system, contributing to the massive amount of waste and duplicative care. The lack of data sharing has been highlighted recently by the coronavirus pandemic, though the federal government and some of its private sector partners have been trying to ameliorate it for years.

The Google tool, called Care Studio, aggregates patient data from separate software systems across inpatient and outpatient facilities, allowing doctors to search the data much like a search engine in a web browser. The tool, which is an optional add-on that does not replace existing EHR systems, surfaces the specific information requested and additional context in a bid to give clinician’s a holistic view of a patient’s care needs, according to Conrado.

“This approach will organize each patient’s historical diagnoses, laboratory tests, medications, treatments and progress notes, so that our clinicians can surface the relevant information needed when it’s needed,” Conrado wrote.

Google and Ascension spent much of late 2019 defending the controversial data sharing project, noting Ascension’s health data from tens of millions of patients is held in a strictly controlled environment and only accessible by a limited number of Google staff who have undergone HIPAA and medical ethics training, and been approved by Ascension. Despite the practice being legal, the firestorm of criticism around the project’s ethics and implications for patient privacy sparked a federal investigation in November of that year.

Partnerships between tech behemoths interested in elbowing into the $4 trillion healthcare industry and large health systems are increasingly common. Also in 2019, Google inked a decadelong partnership with academic medical system Mayo Clinic, storing the organization’s records in return for research and product creation.

In February, Google said it planned to open a new office near Mayo’s campus to galvanize the partnership, which is co-developing new artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.