Ascension to expand pilot of Google EHR search tool

Ascension to expand pilot of Google EHR search tool

St. Louis-based Ascension on Tuesday said it’s expanding a pilot of an electronic health record tool from Google, a next step in the controversial partnership it struck with the tech giant in 2018.

The pilot of Google’s tool, an interface on which clinicians will be able to search for patient records and details within a record, began with a “small group of clinicians” in Nashville, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., according to a blog post from Eduardo Conrado, Ascension’s executive vice president of strategy and innovations.

The pilot, which tests an early release of the software, is expanding to roughly 200 clinicians.

The tool, dubbed “Care Studio,” brings together patients’ health data from separate systems across inpatient and outpatient facilities and makes it “searchable” for clinicians, similar to Google’s web search capabilities. That means clinicians can search for information without having to type in a term verbatim how it’s written in the patient’s chart.

“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.

Pilot clinicians will provide feedback to Google as the company continues to develop the tool. In a presentation at last year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Conrado said the health system had already started testing the tool at one of its Florida hospitals, and it has reduced length of stay and improved satisfaction scores there.

Ascension plans to roll out the search tool to all of its clinicians after completing the pilot, which focuses on data quality and product safety.

It will be an optional tool and does not replace the EHR system.

Although Ascension’s partnership with Google began in 2018, a 2019 Wall Street Journal article drew attention to the collaboration, sparking public concern over patient privacy protections.

Ascension and Google have maintained that the partnership is covered by a business associate agreement they signed, as required by HIPAA. The agreement governs how patient data is used as part of the project.

Patient data is encrypted and stored in Ascension’s cloud environment, and Ascension doesn’t share data with Google to develop the tool.

Google doesn’t own the data used for the EHR search tool and cannot use it for advertising, according to Google.

However, some Google Health staffers may view identifiable patient data as part of validating the accuracy of the tool. In such cases, Google Health staffers’ access is logged and reported to Ascension for auditing.

Google has partnered with a growing number of health systems in recent years. Just last week, Google opened its first office in Minnesota to strengthen its relationship with Mayo Clinic. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic in 2019 announced a 10-year partnership with Google, which involves both cloud storage and innovation projects.

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