Medical Apps are Here to Stay: So How Do We Keep the Value and Lose the Risk?

Domingo Guerra
Domingo Guerra

Guest post by Domingo Guerra, president & co-founder, Appthority.

Last year, 2013, was a big year for mobile applications, including medical and health-related apps. As many medical centers have sought to increase patient engagement, improve outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, digital tools, such as iPads, smartphones, online portals and text messaging in hospitals are rapidly becoming commonplace. Smart health tech has gotten serious. Patients and doctors alike use medical apps. Physicians can access symptom checkers, drug information, medical calculators and more via smartphone and tablet apps. Patients can use apps to find doctors, set appointments, order prescriptions, receive test results, track calories, measure their heart rates and even monitor chronic diseases like diabetes. Patients and doctors agree that the immediate feedback and increase in available data will change the face of medicine. But will the face of privacy change with it?

Acquiring huge amounts of personal data from individuals could enable a more personalized and data driven approach to medicine. This is a very seductive concept, based on the implicit assumption that the more healthcare providers know about the patient, from analyzing his or her data, the better (and more customized) care the patient will receive. However, personal data, now collected and collated by the user’s health gadget, will be incredibly valuable to more than just the patient and the provider. Devices, whether they’re Google Glass or fitness wristbands will need to be integrated with newly developed apps, and existing apps will need to be heavily adapted to work properly. These technology integrations can potentially open back doors that allow cybercriminals to enter and extract sensitive data.

The aggregated data gathered from a wearable wristband capable of tracking a user’s heart rate, and expiration rates along with their blood sugar level and, of course, location can offer a truly comprehensive view of a user. Yes, it’s still early in the healthcare wearables space, but it was “early” in the mobile and BYOD spaces not long ago. Just as BYOD has led to security concerns for sensitive corporate data, these new healthcare devices should be a concern for personal privacy. As users are now literally plugging themselves into the Internet, it’s important to remember that cyber attackers can gain details about daily routines, patterns, and lifestyle, as well as location. This private information, tied together in a dossier that can include a user’s location, income, health status, and other attributes such as sexual orientation, could be of interest to many other groups.

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