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Study: Some mHealth tools have questionable patient privacy

Mobile apps in healthcare are here to stay. Indeed, the market for mHealth devices and services market is expected to grow to $50 billion by 2020—up from $14.5 billion in 2014—according to a report from Zion Research.

Furthermore, a purchasing intentions survey SearchHealthIT recently conducted in conjunction with the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, found that many health IT professionals continue to make mobile a buying priority.

But a study recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) mHealth and uHealth  found that “risks lie in the enormous availability and low levels of regulations” when it comes to the use of apps and e-tools for medical use.

The study looked at 116 mHealth and e-tools, with 87% of those tools being applications. Of those apps, 16 of them were classified as a type II medical device.

“If we classified a tool as a type II medical device, and if health care professionals were the intended user group, we also examined whether they were accessible to non-health care professionals,” the study said.

Of those 16 tools, seven could be used by non-healthcare professionals.

“Thus, the majority of type II medical device tools designed for use by health care professionals were accessible to the general public,” the study found, noting that this is worrisome when it comes to patient privacy.

And it appears the Department of Health and Human Services has taken note of this potential risk when it comes to apps too. The department recently released guidance for healthcare app developers to aid them in navigating HIPAA.