Mayo Clinic and Google's new partnershipwill combine the tech giant's tools and the clinic's expertise to analyze patient data and find ways to improve medical care through new treatments or even to create new products.
During Mayo Clinic's annual Transform conference, Mayo Clinic Chief Information Officer Christopher Ross and Google’s Director of Global Healthcare Solutions Aashima Gupta sat down on stage with Minnesota journalist Tom Weber on Thursday to discuss the recently announced partnership.
The 10-year strategic partnership sets the stage for Mayo Clinic to store copies of patient medical records on the Google Cloud and then use Google's tools and artificial intelligence to analyze the anonymous data for ways to improve medical care. Gupta explained that the patient data would be in "a lock box" and Mayo Clinic would have the only "key."
As part of the deal, Google has pledged to open an office in Rochester. No details about the number of employees, where it will be located or when it might open have been released.
The analysis piece of the project will follow the medical research model of using anonymous patient records that has been used for decades. However, Google's technical tools will "give us the opportunity to do it at 10X, 100X more power and speed," said Ross.
When an audience member asked if Mayo Clinic patients could opt out of having their information used, Ross said, "Uh, no. Operationally, it would simply be impossible to manage that, especially retroactively."
Mayo Clinic is paying Google "a discounted rate" for storing the patient data on the cloud. On the analysis side of the deal, Google will invest both people and money into the project.
The process to upload copies of all of Mayo Clinic's patient records is expected to take 12 to 36 months.
"One of our goals is, as much as possible, to try to keep the data within Mayo's control, even the de-identified data. So as not to ship the data to someone else to do the analysis, but have the analysis part behind the glass in our environment ... where the data doesn't leave at all," said Ross. "That 'Behind the Glass' will be the Google Cloud."
Any intellectual property, such as a new blood test or new medical device, developed from the data analysis will be owned by Mayo Clinic, Google and any third parties that might have worked on the project.
"We have a specific agreement with Google, like we would with other people, on who would own which parts of that IP (intellectual property)," Ross said after the public talk.
Weber posed a hypothetical situation: A patient whose data is in the Google Cloud is losing his hair due to radiation treatments. When that patient goes home, will he find Google ads for toupees on his web browser?
The emphatic answer from both was no.
Gupta stressed that Google Cloud is separate from other parts of the company that profit from customer's online information. So, patients should not be worried about overlap.
"Google Cloud is a different side of the business that is very enterprise-centric," she said.
"It's not just about the money, though it definitely plays a part," she added.
Weber asked if this collaboration is more about business than improving patient care?
Ross immediately referenced Mayo Clinic's historic motto of "The patient comes first."
"I don't have any moral or professional concerns that we aren't keeping the patients' interests, first and foremost," he said.