DeepMind, an AI lab acquired by Google for £400 million, has secured a landmark deal with the NHS, paving the way forward for the company’s growing healthcare division.
Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust announced on its website on Tuesday that it will start rolling out DeepMind’s Streams app to clinicians at its hospitals from early 2017.
Streams is an iPhone app that was designed to help clinicians detect acute kidney injury (AKI) at its earliest stages.
DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman told Business Insider on Tuesday that 1,000 people are dying unnecessarily every month as a result of AKI, adding that the Streams app could help to save lives.
Under the new five-year partnership, DeepMind and the Royal Free intend to expand the app’s abilities so that it can be used to help doctors monitor and detect patients at risk of other conditions, including sepsis and organ failure.
The Trust has been working with DeepMind on the Streams app for the last 12 months, trialling a prototype version of the app in the process.
Stephen Powis, medical director at the Royal Free Trust, which oversees Barnet, Chase Farm and Royal Free hospitals, said in a statement: “Clinicians face real challenges when it comes to detecting conditions like AKI — patients deteriorate rapidly and it can be hours before this is picked up due to the limitations of current NHS technology and the reliance on manual observations and intuition.
“This is about bringing information to doctors and nurses, much in the way we get news alerts on our phones. We know that a quarter of deaths from AKI are preventable if clinicians are able to intervene earlier and more effectively.”
Suleyman, who heads up DeepMind Health, confirmed that the partnership with the Royal Free holds commercial value for DeepMind, adding that the company will eventually be paid for its efforts, but only when it helps the NHS to save money.
There are concerns over data that DeepMind has access to
DeepMind’s work on the Streams app with the Royal Free was criticised by privacy campaigners in April when New Scientist published an article highlighting the extent of the data-sharing agreement between the two organisations.
The agreement gives DeepMind access to the full medical history for 1.6 million patients, including their full name, date of birth, blood test results, past procedures and underlying diagnoses. It also allows DeepMind to see things like whether a patient has ever had a drug overdose, what their HIV status is, and whether they have had an abortion.
After New Scientist revealed the extent of the data sharing agreement, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office began an investigation.
“Our investigation into the sharing of patient information between the Royal Free NHS Trust and DeepMind is ongoing,” a spokesperson told New Scientist. “We are working with the national data guardian to ensure the project complies with the Data Protection Act.”
DeepMind insists that it follows all of the necessary procedures and that many other technology companies also have access to this sort of patient data. It’s also keen to stress that the data isn’t shared with Google.
But Julia Powles, who works on technology law and policy at the University of Cambridge, thinks DeepMind needs to be treated differently. She’s writing a report along the lines of “DeepMind Health and its dubious access to the highly sensitive patient records of millions of unwitting Londoners,” according to The Financial Times.
“They are categorically different to another electronic healthcare provider,” Powles told Business Insider. “They try to analogise to [electronic health records provider] Cerner but they are not the same. They are delivering particular products for a segment of the population, but collecting and holding data on everyone.”
Suleyman insisted that DeepMind has no plans to use Royal Free patient information for anything other than the Streams app, stressing that it won’t be used to help the company to develop its famous self-learning algorithms, which “learn” from large data sets.
The clinical insights provided by the Streams app can also only be accessed and viewed by nurses and doctors, Suleyman added.
DeepMind has announced two other NHS partnerships so far. They include an eyecare project with Moorfields and a cancer detection project with University College London Hospital. The other projects currently don’t hold any commercial value for DeepMind but the company eventually plans to start charging the NHS and others for access to its products and services.
There are other commercial opportunities for DeepMind
Beyond healthcare, DeepMind is chasing a number of other commercial opportunities. The company, which employs over 250 people in King’s Cross, is helping Google to control the huge air-conditioning units in its power-hungry data centres, where servers consume enough energy to power entire cities and get very hot in the process.
DeepMind’s AI does this by predicting how much air conditioning will be needed to deal with an anticipated change in data-centre temperature, which fluctuates as demand for services like YouTube, Google Maps, and Gmail rises and falls.
DeepMind says its AI can make the cooling units in Google’s data centres 40% more efficient, ultimately cutting the data centres’ overall electricity consumption by 15%. DeepMind’s technology has been deployed across only a handful of Google’s data centres, but Google is planning to introduce the company’s machine learning software to all 16 of its data centres by the end of the year, potentially resulting in massive energy savings on Google’s sizable electricity bill.
The company is now looking at how it can use similar technology to help the National Grid to anticipate energy demand.
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