mHealth apps are growing but privacy concerns remain

KEY TAKEAWAY: A study looked at 24 top-rated, interactive apps for Android mobile devices pertaining to medical information, dispensing, administration, prescribing or use. Of those, 79% shared user data with third parties, which then shared it with “fourth parties.”

In a Rock Health survey, 90% of respondents reported using at least one digital health tool in 2017, up from 80% the previous year. Roughly 80% said they used them for health information, while a fourth used them for tracking vital signs or a condition. However, keep in mind that Rock Health is in the mobile health business.

In the BMJ study, 55 different entities owned by 46 parent companies received or processed user data from the 24 sample apps. Of those, a third provided infrastructure-related services while two-thirds performed data collection and analysis, advertising. As if that isn’t concerning enough, third parties touted the ability to share user data with 216 fourth parties.

The authors note that while developers maintain app users’ personal identities are not revealed through data sharing, companies involved in infrastructure plus analytics and advertising have the wherewithal to identify users.

There are currently 240 million Americans that own a smartphone and that number is expected to increase. Healthcare innovators trying to capitalize on these trends, creating new apps designed to connect with users in the venue they’re most comfortable with. The HealthWorks Collective recently published some statistics on the use of mobile healthcare apps. They stated:

-There are more than 97,000 health and fitness applications available for download to mobile or tablet devices.

-52% of smartphone users collect health-associated information on their devices.

-15% of 18 to 29-year olds have health apps already installed on their cell phones.

-8% of smartphone users between the ages of 30 to 49 have medical app downloads.

-40% of doctors trust that these mobile tools can lessen the number of on-site clinical visits.

-More than 25% of American physicians are using at least one mHealth app.

-93% of doctors say mobile apps can enhance the quality of patient health.

Mobile health is coming on strong but pharma has remained on the sidelines. Sure, some have dabbled in mhealth, but the cost of continued updates and development have not established the link to ROI.

Progressive pharma companies are going to prepare their organizations for health NOW rather than later. Experimentation is needed and teams need to integrate learnigs from failures.