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Google Cloud invests $100 million in US telemedicine platform Amwell

Google’s cloud division has invested $100 million in American telehealth company Amwell, which filed for IPO on Monday.

Amwell will move video services to Cloud: As part of the deal, Amwell will use Google Cloud as its telehealth platform partner, and will move its video services to Google Cloud for new and existing customers. According to the S1 filing with the SEC, Google’s investment will be a concurrent private placement.

Surge in usage of teleconsult services: The pandemic has been a watershed for telemedicine, it’s no surprise that Amwell’s services saw massive growth in usage over the past few months. For the quarter ended June 2020, average monthly visit volumes and average monthly active providers increased over 200% and 400% respectively, over the previous quarter. Amwell has powered over 5.6 million teleconsults for its clients to date more than 2.9 million of these took place in January-June 2020. The platform saw 40,000 visits in April 2020, as compared to 2,900 per day in April last year. Amwell powers telemedicine solutions for 2,000 hospitals and 55 health partners.

Plans to add ML capabilities: Google Cloud’s Aashima Gupta told CNBC that the two companies plan to add more machine learning capabilities to the service. Video traffic for Amwell Home and Amwell Now, which enables video consults without having to download any app, will be moved to Google Cloud by January 2021.

Google’s Project Nightingale project raised privacy concerns

In November 2019, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Google had secretly been gathering the health data of millions of Americans on behalf of Ascension, the US’ second-largest healthcare provider. The data gathered included lab results, diagnoses, hospitalisation records, and amounted “to a complete health history”, including patient names and dates of birth. Dubbed ‘Project Nightingale’, the project involved discreet collection of health data from Ascension’s hospitals without informing patients of such collection.

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Both Google and Ascension had confirmed that they had signed a industry-standard agreement that allows sharing of protected health information under the federal patient privacy law, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but this can only be used to provide patient care.

The project was aimed that developing tools for Ascension’s doctors to more easily search medical records, as part of a larger deal to move Ascension to Google Cloud and G Suite services.

While the partnership appeared to be HIPAA-compliant, it drew concerns from patients, providers, and senators. A group of three senators questioned Ascension CEO Joseph Impicicihe regarding their concerns around Project Nightingale. The project has also led to several investigations, including an ongoing inquiry by the Office for Civil Rights.

Google’s FitBit purchase

Google acquired wearables company FitBit for $2.1 billion to help invest further in Wear OS and introduce Made by Google wearables into the market. Apart from the hardware push, the acquisition will give Google access to health data of FitBit’s 28 million active users. FitBit devices have been tracking granular health data of wearers, such as steps taken, calories burned, exercises performed, sleep cycle and quality.

Early in its announcement, Google ensured it will be transparent about what and why data will be collected, stating that “privacy and security are paramount”. FitBit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads, and FitBit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data. FitBit made the same assurances in its announcement.

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