Dispensed: Breaking down the Google-Ascension drama, the challenges a public (or private) Walgreens faces, and insiders' concerns about a SoftBank-backed farming company
Welcome to Dispensed, Business Insider's weekly newsletter, in which we're having a hard time believe that Friday is finally here. It's been a long week for us on the team (never move apartments, is all I'm saying). We'll get into more of that right away.
On Monday afternoon, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Ascension, the second-largest health system in the US is working with Google. The endeavor, called "Project Nightingale", involves data on millions of patients, that could be accessed by Ascension employees as well as close to 150 Google employees, and patients weren't notified about the project.
Shortly after The Journal's report, Ascension came out with a statement acknowledging the work, detailing the scope of the work the two are doing together - including moving patient records onto the cloud, as well as exploring ways to develop AI tools.
As it turns out, this was something my UK-based colleague Alexandra Ma had on her radar already. She got her hands on a whole bunch of documents related to the so-called "Project Nightingale." Together, we sifted through them to bring you an inside look into what Google and Ascension are up to.
Google is working with a massive health system to gather data on millions of patients. Here's an inside look at the tools they're developing.
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The big question coming out of this doesn't seem to be about whether the arrangement was or wasn't HIPAA compliant. It's more that tech companies are increasingly going to have a hand in what's going on with our health data. Are we comfortable with that? Let me know your thoughts - firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other tech giant news, Apple's 400,000-person Apple Watch study results are in. Erin Brodwin has the breakdown of what we learned. For me, the biggest takeaway was how many people didn't follow through.
An unprecedented study suggests the Apple Watch can help detect heart problems. But very few people actually used it to do that.
- At the beginning of the year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company's "greatest contribution to mankind" would be in health.
- So, can the Apple Watch help spot heart problems? A study published Wednesday says yes.
- There are caveats.
- The study did not use the most recent Apple Watch, which has a special sensor designed to detect heart issues. Instead, it used previous versions of the Watch, which use lights.
- In addition, few people recruited for the research actually completed it.
And Erin spoke to more than half a dozen former employees at a vertical farming startup. Some told her about times they felt unsafe at work.
A futuristic farming startup raised $260 million from Jeff Bezos and SoftBank on the promise of upending agriculture. Insiders are raising questions.
- The startup Plenty has raised $260 million from investors, including Jeff Bezos and SoftBank, to transform agriculture with a type of indoor tech known as vertical farming.
- Seven former employees told Business Insider that Plenty's leadership repeatedly touted expectations for the company that did not materialize during their time at Plenty. Four of the people said they felt unsafe at work on more than one occasion.
- Some of the insiders' concerns were with Plenty's technology during their time there; others centered on public statements they feel were, at best, overly ambitious and, at worst, misleading.
- Plenty CEO Matt Barnard told Business Insider the company is proud of its safety record and is using new and improved technology to grow its produce.
... And on that note, today is Erin's last day at BI. Erin's been such a big part of the team and we wish her well at her next opportunity. She's been at BI for five years, during which time I had the privilege to work with her first as my editor (thanks for hiring me, Erin!) and later as a reporting colleague.
We're excited to see what she gets up to next (I'll let her give you all the details!).
'It's time for another evolution'
Monday may have been consumed by the Google-Ascension news, but the news cycle also brought a report that KKR has made a formal offer to Walgreens regarding going private.
Since last week, our wheels have been turning trying to make sense of the implications of the retail pharmacy giant going private.
Going private could give Walgreens the relief from quarterly earnings it needs to adapt. But either way, it seems clear that in the future the retail pharmacy won't look like how it looks today.
In a conversation after earnings last week, when I asked CVS CEO Larry Merlo about this, he told me, "It's time for another evolution. We see us leading that evolution with what we're doing, with our strategy and the drug store becoming more of a health destination."
I broke down the approaches Walgreens and CVS are taking and the challenges that lie within each plan here:
For those companies actively going deeper in healthcare, there's a potential to disrupt the usual flow of business for health systems who stand to lose out on key referrals if patients start at a retailer rather than a primary care doctor in their system. Are health systems prepared for that? I take a closer look at that here.
Data, data, data
It's not just Google looking to bring its AI skills to healthcare. Clarrie Feinstein broke down the investments in AI companies that together totaled $1 billion.
Investors just poured more than $1 billion into startups using AI to tackle every part of healthcare. Here are the 5 healthcare AI startups raking in the most cash.
And in case you missed it last week, Clarrie listened in on a podcast with Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He explained how he has a plan to save US healthcare. It involves a whole lot of data.
A little housekeeping - yes, Zach Tracer and I will be out at JPMorgan in January. Feel free to send San Francisco food recommendations and event invites our way!
With that, I hope you all have a good fall (winter?) weekend. I'll be spending the weekend moving from one apartment to another and unpacking... wish me luck!
As always, be sure to reach out to us with your cloud deal thoughts and tips to the team at email@example.com. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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