Intel and Google Cloud join project to improve health in US
Intel and Google Cloud are joining a research programme that has the aim of improving the health of people from underrepresented groups in the US.
The National Institute of Health (NIH)’s All of Us Research Program will collect biomedical data from people from different backgrounds, so that researchers can study the differences that lifestyle, socioeconomic, environmental and biological characteristics have on diagnosis, prevention and treatment.
The programme has launched in response to the deep health inequalities people in the US experience, exposed by the Covid-19 outbreak.
The NIH has a goal of recruiting 1 million participants, which would make it the most diverse health database of its kind as well as one of the largest health research efforts in the history of the US.
How it works
So far 366,000 participants have enrolled, providing more than 279,000 biosamples for genomic sequencing, and data from more than 233,000 electronic health records (EHRs).
This biomedical data will be made accessible to researchers through the Researcher Workbench, hosted on Google Cloud and powered by Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Intel is also funding compute credits to support data curation and research projects to speed up Covid-19 discovery and treatment through its Pandemic Response Technology Initiative.
Participants are asked to answer health questionnaires, provide access to EHRs, give physical measurements, and agree to collection and analysis of biospecimens for genomic assessment.
All of Us is prioritising Covid-19 research, by testing for antibodies and analysing the data collected through surveys about participants’ experiences during the pandemic.
Mike Daniels, Vice President of Global Public Sector at Google Cloud, called their partnership with NIH “a critical effort. The ability to manage, analyse and share data at scale will be critical in this effort to deliver equitable and effective care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We are proud to support this important effort in partnership with All of Us and Intel.”
Getting ready for cloud data-driven healthcare
As healthcare continues to recognise the value of data and digital transformation, many organisations are relying on the cloud to make their future-forward and data-centric thinking a reality. In fact, the global healthcare cloud computing market was valued at approximately $18 billion and is expected to generate around $61 billion USD by 2025.
At the forefront of these changes is the rapid adoption of cloud-based, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), applications. These apps can be used to handle patient interactions, track prescriptions, care, billing and more, and the insights derived from this important data can vastly improve operations, procurement and courses of treatment. However, before healthcare organisations can begin to dream about a true data-driven future, they have to deal with a data-driven dilemma: compliance.
Meeting regulation requirements
It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly regulated industry when it comes to data and privacy – and rightfully so. Patient records contain extremely sensitive data that, if changed or erased, could cost someone their life. This is why healthcare systems rely on legacy technologies, like Cerner and Epic EHRs, to manage patient information – the industry knows the vendors put an emphasis on making them as secure as possible.
Yet when SaaS applications are introduced and data starts being moved into them, compliance gets complicated. For example, every time a new application is introduced into an organisation, that organisation must have the vendor complete a BAA (Business Associate Agreement). This agreement essentially puts the responsibility for the safety of patients’ information — maintaining appropriate safeguards and complying with regulations — on the vendor.
However, even with these agreements in place, healthcare systems still are at risk of failing to meet compliance requirements. To comply with HIPAA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 11 and other regulations that stipulate the need to exercise best practices to keep electronic patient data safe, healthcare organisations must maintain comprehensive audit trails – something that gets increasingly difficult when data sits in an application that resides in the vendor’s infrastructure.
Additionally, data often does not stay in the applications – instead healthcare users download, save and copy it into other business intelligence tools, creating data sprawl across the organisation and exposing patient privacy to greater risk.
With so many of these tools that are meant to spur growth and more effective care creating compliance challenges, it begs the question: how can healthcare organisations take advantage of the data they have without risking non-compliance?
Yes, healthcare organisations can adhere to regulations while also getting valuable insights from the wealth of data they have available. However, to help do this, organisations must own their data. This means data must be backed up and stored in an environment that they have control over, rather than in the SaaS vendors’ applications.
Backing up historical SaaS application data directly from an app into an organisation’s own secure cloud infrastructure, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, makes it easier, and less costly, to maintain a digital chain of custody – or a trail of the different touchpoints of data. This not only increases the visibility and auditability of that data, but organisations can then set appropriate controls around who can access the data.
Likewise, having data from these apps located in one central, easily accessible location can decrease the number of copies floating around an organisation, reducing the surface area of exposure while also making it easier for organisations to securely pull data into business intelligence tools.
When healthcare providers have unfettered access to all their historical data, the possibilities for growth and insights are endless. For example, having ownership and ready access to authorised data can help organisations further implement and support outcome-based care. Insights enabled by this data will help inform diagnoses, prescriptions, treatment plans and more, which benefits not only the patient, but the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.
To keep optimising and improving care, healthcare systems must take advantage of new tools like SaaS applications. By backing up and owning their historical SaaS application data, they can do so while minimising the risk to patient privacy or compliance requirements. Having this ownership and access can propel healthcare organisations to be more data-driven – creating better outcomes for everyone.