Australian researchers sum up risks with medical apps

By Brian Dolan
05:50 am
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MediSensAustralian researchers Jennifer Lindley and Dr Juanita Fernando, faculty members at Melbourne's Monash University Medicine Nursing and Health Science department, recently penned an editorial for the free, online medical journal European Journal of ePractice that outlines some concerns around medical apps intended for use by healthcare professionals.

The academics concerns are broken down into four key categories: infrastructure, distracters, privacy and security, and app developers.

The first group relates to the network infrastructure at a healthcare facility or wherever the healthcare provider is aiming to use medical apps. Of course, without a cell signal, most medical apps won't work. The researchers also note that some hospital set-ups could have bandwidth issues if too many healthcare providers are attempting to use apps simultaneously.

Distraction-related issues that the researchers noted include email sign ups, pop-ups, icons/badges, notifications, and email alerts. The distractibility of other apps resident on mobile devices has been a concern for many years. The patient's perception that a medical profession may not be paying attention to them and making eye contact because they are using a medical app is a related concern.

The third category of concern is focused on privacy and security -- these are for the apps themselves as well as for using mobile devices in clinical settings in general. Device loss, call interception, conversations permanently stored on the device, pervasive root kits, and cookies used for data mining were all among the privacy related concerns listed. Root kits are often used by developers to receive feedback on an app's functionality or usability, but the researchers are concerned that they could also be -- sometime inadvertently -- sharing sensitive data with the app developers too.

Finally, the researchers cite concerns about medical app developers. Developers may lack an understanding of healthcare contexts and standards. They may be using data mining tools as mentioned above. They may also have included very little (if any) end user input during the design of their apps, which could lead to safety risks and inaccurate information or algorithms.

While the researchers' concerns shouldn't be new to longtime mobile health watchers, the report sums them up tidily. The entire January edition of the medical journal, which focused on mobile health regulation, is available for free as a PDF right now.

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