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Survey results show concern among consumers about privacy with wearables and mobile apps

In 2014, there were an estimated 21 million wearable tech devices sold worldwide, according to a survey by Healthline, a health IT publishing and marketing company. In 2019, that number could grow to 150 million.

Despite the popularity of wearables—especially among consumers– and the benefits they bring to personal healthcare, the survey also found that many wearable users feel their data is not being sufficiently secured by manufacturers. For example:

  • 25% of respondents said that they don’t believe their personal health data is secure on a Fitbit or a health tracking app.
  • 45% of respondents—who are also wearable and mobile health app users—said they are concerned that hackers may try to steal their personal health data from a wearable.

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding this topic: What exactly is personal health data? And what exactly does HIPAA protect?

In a recent SearchHealthIT article, experts explained that if a person simply goes out and purchases a Fitbit, for example, then the health data that device and company collects is not covered by HIPAA. However, if a person receives a wearable device through a hospital or doctor—including a Fitbit—then the health data that device collects is covered by privacy regulations because it was issued by a HIPAA-covered entity. Even then it is important to note that HIPAA—specifically the HIPAA Security Rule– defines protected health information (PHI) as information like a patient’s name, address, phone number, or Social Security number.

However, other information — heart rate data for example — is not considered PHI and therefore is not covered by HIPAA. Experts also added that should your Fitbit be hacked and your heart rate data stolen, it wouldn’t pose a major threat to the user.

Despite these concerns, the value of wearables when it comes to healthcare is undeniable and the survey report found that physicians are beginning to recognize this.

“Mobile app prescribing is still in its infancy, but we see it emerging today,” the report said, with 4% of respondents saying their doctor recommended a mobile app to them and 2% said an app was actually formally prescribed by their doctor.

“Healthline’s survey findings indicate a strong interest among consumers in the advancement of wearables, mobile apps and telehealth,” Dean Stephens, CEO of Healthline, said. “However, there is a lingering and noticeable concern around the protection of personal health information. This should be a warning bell for manufacturers to ensure that the security of this new technology is a top priority.”