Healthcare News & Insights

Mobile health apps create privacy risk, study says

Patients want to use smartphones and tablets to help manage their own health. However, a lot of popular mobile health apps create privacy and other risks. 

149402573Many people want to use smartphones for health care. Patients who own those devices want to use them to interact with their providers, as well as to track and manage symptoms and other information. For example, among the 2,000 patients surveyed recently by Harris Interactive and Health Day:

  • 38% want to check their blood pressure using a mobile gadget
  • 36% would like to be able to monitor their heart beat to find irregularities
  • 34% were interested in using applications to track weight, nutrition and other health factors
  • 32% would like to be able to photograph their eyes to diagnoses an eye problem, and
  • 32% would like to monitor glucose levels on a mobile device.

Fortunately, the mobile health app market is growing and many tools and apps are available now, with more on the way. But unfortunately, there are some dangerous elements surrounding those apps.

Privacy concerns

One of the big worries is an area that impacts a lot of mobile technology: the privacy of personal data.

A recent study from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse found that many of the most popular free health apps pose some sort of privacy risk. Researchers looked at 20 of the 23 most popular no-cost health-related apps and found that 50% send data to third-party advertisers, with none encrypting their transmissions.

What’s more, 39% send data to an unidentified third party.

Paid apps are safer, according to researchers, but those still had problems. For instance, 30% of those send data to unidentified third parties, and 40% don’t have a privacy policy.

Overall, 72% of the apps examined pose a medium to high risk to users’ privacy, according to the study.

Bogus health tools

Another concern about mobile health apps is that a lot simply don’t work the way their developers claim.

A report last year found that there are many apps available that claim to use a smartphone’s hardware to treat conditions. However, they’re mostly bogus and could create real dangers for people who rely on them instead of treatment from a doctor.

There are plenty of legitimate tools out there that can help patients take better care of themselves and catch problems sooner. Hopefully, it will be easier to separate the good from the bad after the FDA figures out the best way to regulate the mobile health app market.

In the meantime, doctors can get familiar with what’s out there and offer recommendations to patients when applicable.

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