Health information management has long been suffering through a period of growing pains. For each advancement that promises to improve outcomes for patients and make information management easier for doctors, nurses, and administrators, there are similar and equal setbacks that complicate the widespread adoption of those advancements.

That is especially true in the case of mobile health apps. A proliferation of recent apps has created exciting new opportunities for stakeholders throughout the healthcare landscape. Patients can use them to get accurate and instant information about their health, empowering them to make smarter choices about diet, exercise, and personal wellness. Doctors can use these apps to remotely track health metrics and provide more timely care to patients. Finally, researchers can use the massive amounts of health data generated by these apps to expedite and enhance the work they do. Even in their infancy, these apps are starting to have a major impact on the way we deliver healthcare.

The flexibility and portability of these apps is what makes them such an asset. They can be developed to respond to a wide variety of conditions, and configured to harvest and transmit valuable sources of data. And in most cases, the only necessary technology is a device that fits in one’s pocket. Research suggests that as many as 7 in 10 patients already track at least one health metric with a mobile device, and a third of physicians recommend them to patients.

But for similar reasons, these mobile health apps are also raising concerns about privacy and the risk of a large scale data breach. Many of these apps come backed by privacy policies that are more liberal with how they collect and share information than users are aware of. This data could be used by parties that have explicit permission, but it could also fall into the hands of hackers and other malicious entities whose motives may be nefarious.

Experts recommend that before using any mobile health app, the user reads the privacy policy, confirms that data will only be uploaded through encrypted channels, checks on where the data will be sent/shared, and feels comfortable with the terms of service.

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