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AHIMA advice for managing personal health information via mHealth apps

Amid the rising use of mHealth apps, AHIMA has released a guide to help consumers protect their personal medical information.

As the world of mHealth continues to evolve, more than 97,000 health- and fitness-related apps have emerged to aid consumers in understanding, treating and tracking their health-centered activities. To help consumers navigate those mobile health apps that are designed to manage personal health information in particular, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) has created a best practices guide for choosing and using a healthcare-related app.

The five-page guide is designed to help patients make educated decisions, especially in regard to privacy and security concerns, before they download a mobile health application. The guide also serves as a tool for providers, who can direct patients to the site for advice.

This is our attempt to help consumers have a better understanding of apps, so they don't just hit 'Install' without looking at the small print..

Marsha Dolan,
co-chair, AHIMA Consumer Engagement Practice Council

The guide uses a fitting acronym, "APP," to divide its discussion into three sections. "Advice" helps users choose which app is best for their individual needs. "Privacy" advises them on what to look for in an app's privacy and security agreement, including remote wiping capabilities in the case of a missing or stolen device, and adequate password management. Lastly, "Personal" offers tips to ensure the personal health information stored in the app can be shared successfully with the user's care provider.

AHIMA's Consumer Engagement Practice Council began working on the guide in 2012, enlisting a team of health information experts to build and revise a list of mHealth best practices. Marsha Dolan, co-chair of the council, said though the current majority of health-related apps are geared to fitness and diet, tools increasingly are being designed to assist patients in helping to manage chronic illnesses, such as by tracking their blood sugar levels and medication intake. These and other patient-monitored wellness factors have been touted as a way to bridge the doctor-patient gap and improve medication compliance.

"Consumers are going to want to share that information with their physicians or providers, or providers are going to suggest they use apps to collect it," Dolan said. "A lot of the younger consumers are pretty tech-savvy, but once you start moving up in the age bracket, people might not really understand what they're doing when they're just downloading these apps." she said. "And even if they are a techie, that doesn't mean they have really thought about the privacy and security implications of putting their information in an app."

It's too soon to know how many providers will point patients to the guide, Dolan said. But looking forward, she said, the council will focus its efforts on keeping the guide up to date in the light of evolving mobile health regulations and mobile health app certifications.

"It's very evident that mHealth is just going crazy right now," she said. "This is our attempt to help consumers have a better understanding of apps, so they don't just hit 'Install' without looking at the small print."

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