Google on Tuesday announced a new set of artificial intelligence tools aimed at allowing healthcare organizations to use the search giant’s software and servers to read, store and classify X-rays, MRIs and other medical imaging images.
The tools, from Google’s cloud module, allow hospitals and medical companies to search through imaging metadata or quickly develop software to analyze images for diagnosis. The tools, dubbed Medical Imaging Suite, can help healthcare professionals automatically annotate medical images and build machine learning models for research.
“With advances in medical imaging technology, there has been an increase in the size and complexity of these images,” said Alyssa Hsu Lynch, Google Cloud global leader for health technology strategies and solutions, in an interview. “We know that AI can enable faster and more accurate diagnoses and thus help improve the productivity of healthcare workers.”
Based on Google’s other forays into healthcare, privacy advocates may raise concerns that the tech giant, which generates the majority of its $257 billion in annual revenue from personalized advertising based on user data, will use patient information to fuel its massive advertising machine.
Lynch says Google has no access to patients’ PHI, and none of the data from the service will be used for the company’s advertising efforts. Google claims that the service is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a federal law that regulates the use of patient data.
The tech giant is working with a few medical organizations as early partners for the imaging program. One of the partners, a company called Hologic, is using Google’s cloud storage suite, as well as developing technology to help improve cervical cancer diagnosis. Another partner called Hackensack Meridian Health, a network of healthcare providers in New Jersey, is using the tools to clean identification information from millions of gigabytes of X-rays. The company will also use the software to help build an algorithm to predict prostate cancer metastases.
The new tools come as Google and its parent company Alphabet invest more in health-related initiatives. In the early days of the pandemic, Alphabet’s Verily unit, which focuses on life sciences and medical technology, partnered with the Trump administration to provide online screening for Covid tests. Google has also partnered with Apple to create a contract tracking system on smartphones. Last year, the company disbanded its Google Health unit, and restructured its health efforts so that they are not placed in one central department.
Google has generated controversy in the past for its efforts in healthcare. In 2019, Google responded to an initiative The Nightingale Project is calledThe company has partnered with Ascension, the country’s second-largest healthcare system, to collect personal health information for millions of people. The data included laboratory results, diagnoses and hospitalization records, including names and birthdays, according to the Ministry of Health The Wall Street Journal, although Google said at the time that the project complies with federal law. Google was reportedly using the data in part to design new software.
Two years earlier, the tech giant partnered with the National Institute of Health to publish more than 100,000 chest x-rays. The goal there was to showcase the company’s cloud storage capabilities and make the data available to researchers. But two days before the images were released, the National Institutes of Health told Google that its software had not properly removed data from X-rays that could identify patients, to me Washington Post, which would potentially violate federal law. In response, Google canceled its project with the NIH.
When asked about Google’s previous stumble with de-identification information, Samir Sethi, senior vice president and head of data and analytics at Hackensack Meridian Health, said the company has safeguards in place to prevent such mishaps.
“You never trust the tool,” he said. Forbes. He adds that Hackensack Meridian Health is working with a third-party company to certify that the images have been de-identified, even after using Google tools. “We will not bring anything to use without expert decision.”