Highmark strikes six-year contract with Google Cloud


Google Cloud continued its push into healthcare by striking a contract with a big insurer. It reached a six-year strategic partnership with Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health, which includes one of the largest insurers affiliated with Blue Cross Blue Shield and hospital system Allegheny Health Network. They did not disclose the terms of the deal.

The companies plan to build a platform that would make it easier for patients to share health information between visits and reduce some of the administrative burden for clinicians.

The details of this system, which Highmark calls its “Living Health Dynamic Platform,” are still sparse. Highmark said it wants to tap into Google’s AI and analytics capabilities to provide clinicians with timely information about each patient.

For example, a patient with high blood pressure might be able to use a wearable device at home, and have data sent through the cloud to their clinical team, said Dr. Tony Farah, Highmark Health’s chief medical and chief clinical transformation officer.

“Historically, we would just have them check their own blood pressure and send you a note, and then they wait for us to get back to them. This is what we mean by smart seamless and convenient to patient,” he said in a virtual press conference. “The physician or the clinical team can proactively, or based on the patient’s preferences for how they want to receive this information, act upon it.”

Highmark started a series of pilots last year, looking for ways to improve the health of patients in its high-risk patients and to address chronic conditions. They found ways to reduce duplicate efforts and administrative barriers, Farah said.

“This will be Highmark’s approach going forward to engage with our customers,” Highmark Health COO Karen Hanlon said, referring to both its health insurance customers and patients,

The company hopes to have a minimum viable product within the next 12 months.


Privacy questions

Google has faced questions about its privacy practices when it comes to previous healthcare partnerships. Last year, a deal it struck with 2,600-hospital system Ascension drew scrutiny from regulators, prompting an investigation from HHS’ office of Civil Rights.

In addition to hosting Ascension’s records using its cloud services, Google and Ascension were working to develop a search tool for health records, which the Wall Street Journal reported gave 150 engineers access to patient data.  Google has said the partnership is HIPAA-compliant and is completely separate from its search business.

With respect to its partnership with Highmark, patients will have the option to opt in (or out) of some components of the program, though what exactly is vague. Hanlon said some components of the program will be modular, such as solutions targeted at certain health conditions.

“It’s those solutions and some of those modularized components that we would expect our customers to be able to opt in and out of,” she said.

Highmark and Google Cloud will also create a joint data ethics and privacy review, and Highmark will be able to control access and use of patient data, the companies said.

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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