In recent years, technological advances have given us smartphone apps which can monitor our blood sugar and blood pressure, and allow us to be diagnosed by doctors without the need for a face-to-face appointment. The rise of smartphone-based health assessments has led to concern about what happens to the personal medical information people are putting into their mobile phones.
The European Commission estimates that the market for mobile health services could exceed €17.5billion (€19billion) from 2017. Yan Jie Gao, the Chinese health ministry’s deputy head of “digital health”, revealed the ministry’s plans to spend tens of billions of euros on equipping 90,000 hospitals with the means for patients to contact them online securely.
“In a few years, new technology will be able to monitor numerous essential physiological indicators by telephone and to send alerts to patients and the specialists who look after them,” says Vincent Genet of consultancy Alcimed.
The idea behind smartphone health services is that apps can make health information and expert advice more easily accessible for patients. It has also been reasoned that these systems could save governments money and improve life expectancy.
However, there are worries about data privacy, as information being kept in virtual storage space could too easily come into the wrong hands. One concern is that insurance companies will manage to gain access to information about people’s illnesses which gives them reason to charge more for coverage.
“The problem quite often is that a lot of this data is stored not on the phone or the app but in the cloud,” says Kevin Curran, a computer scientist and senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the US. “We are at the mercy of who the app providers are and how well they secure the information, and they are at the mercy sometimes of the cloud providers.”
Curran says that patients need to be very careful when entering health indicators into online programmes, but adds that he thinks “tech companies are becoming more concerned with privacy and encryption now.”