The confidential details of 1.6 million patients of The Royal Free NHS Trust were illegally passed to Google’s DeepMind company in September 2015, according to the Information Commissioner (ICO) – an independent authority set up to deal with information issues – which ruled that the Royal Free failed to comply with the Data Protection Act.

This patient data was shared without patient consent in an attempt to aid technological advances by DeepMind – Google’s artificial intelligence company – in order to improve healthcare and, in particular, the diagnosis of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) – a condition that prevents the kidneys from working effectively.

DeepMind is in the process of developing its Streams app that aims to assist medical professionals with preventing and treating Acute Kidney Injury (AKI). Streams collates a huge variety of patient data and will aid decision making on the treatment of Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) along with other conditions in future.

The Royal Free says that the patient data was provided to DeepMind to assist the company in its testing stage of the Streams app.

AKI is a critical issue in the UK that is responsible for 40,000 deaths in the UK alone each year. It is estimated that 13-18% of all patients admitted into UK hospitals show signs of Acute Kidney Injury, so any decrease in the amount of suffers would help to ease pressure on the NHS.

It is claimed that the use of Streams will assist in the management of Acute Kidney Injury as well as other conditions in the future and help to boost the effectiveness of frontline healthcare delivery by providing healthcare practitioners with a wealth of information that could save lives.

An expert at medical negligence firm Patient Claim Line explains that Streams could also be a vital tool in the aftermath of an incident as the app can monitor individual and group performance to pinpoint any failures that may have occurred. This could then lead to an overhaul of the processes which were at fault and significantly reduce the risk of repeat incidents.

Despite the clear impact of Acute Kidney Injury on both patients and the NHS, questions have arisen about the need of the Royal Free to hand this confidential information to DeepMind and what impact this will have on patient safeguarding

There is concern that this confidential patient data is potentially stored on Google’s servers especially after several instances of previous cyber-attacks on the company in the past.

Of course, the NHS has also fallen victim to data breaches, with millions of patients affected by the global cyber-attacks that hit around 40 separate NHS organisations in May 2017.

Despite the public perception that DeepMind uses artificial intelligence, the company has made it explicitly clear that this has not yet been incorporated into any current processes or development, including the Streams app. However, DeepMind has stated that there are plans to integrate AI into its system in the future.

The future use of artificial intelligence in healthcare will no doubt raise further questions around the safeguarding issues of patient data, such as which organisations or groups will have access to this information and where will it be stored. These are concerns that have been voiced ever since the NHS patient data was shared with DeepMind.

It is believed that the introduction of artificial intelligence could pinpoint those who are more susceptible to suffer from certain conditions, which could then lead to preventative treatment and help save lives.


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