Evansville's St. Vincent Hospital belongs to the same health care system that is involved in a secret project with Google to collect and crunch the detailed personal health information of millions of Americans across 21 states, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The project is code-named “Project Nightingale” and appears to be the largest in a number of attempts to access personal health data and establish a toehold in the massive health-care industry by the likes of Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp., who are also trying to get into health care but have not yet gotten deals on this scale, WSJ reports.

St. Louis-based Ascension began the secret data-sharing effort with Google last year, with it increasing since summer, according to documents uncovered by WSJ. The data involved in Project Nightingale included lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, including a complete health history with patient names and dates of birth, WSJ reported.

In a release posted to their website Monday, Ascension officials said "all work related to Ascension’s engagement with Google is HIPAA compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling."

Ascension officials said they are working with Google to "optimize the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care."

“As the healthcare environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and healthcare providers. Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve,” said Eduardo Conrado, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Innovations, Ascension in the release.

The WSJ reported that at least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents. The WSJ reporting revealed that there were some Ascension employees who raised questions about how the data is being collected from both a technological and ethical perspective.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, what is happening appears to be allowed, WSJ said privacy experts told them. HIPPA generally permits hospitals to share data with business partners without telling patients if the data is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions," WSJ reported.

The data is being used by Google to design new software zeroing in on individual patients to suggest changes to their care, WSJ reported.

Ascension said the partnership "will improve the experience of patients and consumers, as well as providers and associates, and advance its mission of providing compassionate, personalized care to all, especially people living in poverty and those most vulnerable, through new capabilities that include:

• Streamlining consumers’ engagement with healthcare and empowering them to be proactively engaged in maintaining their health

• Improving the caregiver experience with technology and arming caregivers with insights that allow them to better predict and manage patient needs

• Improving the efficiency of Ascension’s technology operations so that resources can be shifted from running isolated solutions to innovating within integrated platforms"

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