Monitoring and privacy issues beyond HIPAA

By Brian Dolan

UK-based publication, The Engineer, has a short and sweet commentary that raises the issue of privacy -- but not in the regulatory, protect-my-health-data sense. The brief editorial wonders where the line should be drawn for remote monitoring of older relatives and friends. The Engineer reported on A&D Medical's Bluetooth blood pressure cuff and Bluetooth-enabled weight scale attaining Continua Health Alliance interoperability certification a few weeks ago. The potential of home health products and their downsides spurred an editorial from the publication's Special Reports Editor Stuart Nathan this week:

Of course, there's a downside. ‘Regular monitoring' is often a synonym for snooping and if we look further forward, such systems could monitor many more things than personal health. Want to be sure that your elderly relative is okay? You could monitor their home to tell you when they got out of bed (a loadcell under the mattress could deal with that); how often the fridge door opens; and whether the TV stays on late into the night. Is that keeping a reassuring eye, or is it an unwarranted invasion of privacy? That's a matter of opinion, isn't it?

The columnist goes on to point out that people are willing to give up a little privacy in return for convenience. I'm sure we could come up with a plausible reason for tracking almost any activity, vital sign or other metric for a given person, but the points made above point to the need for customizable remote monitoring solutions. Sensor systems need to adapt to the person. One size won't fit all. It's more than likely that some sizes will feel like an invasion of privacy to those being monitored. So it comes back to the old question -- beyond HIPAA -- who is monitoring the monitors?

Read the full The Engineer commentary here