Sharing Medical Data Through Apps May Endanger Patient Privacy

The federal government is creating its first medical data-sharing regulations, which will require providers to send patients’ medical information to third-party apps when authorized, according to a report from The New York Times.

“The provision of health care will be brought into the app economy and, through that, to a much, much higher degree of patient control,” said Don Rucker, MD, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Allowing patients to access their medical information using smartphone apps could make managing their health and understanding treatment options easier, but medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, warn that this may also lead to data abuse and privacy concerns. Federal privacy protections for medical records, such as HIPAA, do not extend to consumer apps.

“Patients simply may not realize that their genetic, reproductive health, substance abuse disorder, mental health information can be used in ways that could ultimately limit their access to health insurance, life insurance, or even be disclosed to their employers,” said AMA Board Chair Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH. “Patient privacy can’t be retrieved once it’s lost.”

These rules are expected to become final this year. Once they are in effect, electronic health record vendors that are found guilty of “information blocking,” or impeding with data sharing, may be fined up to $1 million. Doctors accused of information blocking could be subject to federal investigation. Health providers and vendors will have two years to comply with the new regulations.

Source: The New York Times, September 3, 2019.