May 11, 2013

Who Owns Your Medical App?

I don't mean you, even if you are the one physically in possession of the app. I am talking about the one that owns the rights to the app or where the data it generates is stored. These may be owned by different companies, both with conflict-of-interest issues. Because I do not own any medical apps, I can only tell you what a friend had happen to him. He purchased the app from Amazon, and started using it. About two months later he received a notice that his insurance will not be covering his condition because he is not following his doctor's instructions.

Now he is confused, as he thought he was doing everything correctly, and he contacts his doctor and discovers he is doing everything like he was told. He took the notice to his doctor who wrote a letter explaining that he is following his directions. Approximately a month later he received another letter stating that his monthly premium will be increasing by what amounts to one and one half times what it had been. The reason given is that his results are not in the range they should have been for the medication he is taking.

Because he has an appointment the next day, he took the notice with him. When the doctor completed the appointment, he showed the doctor the notice. The doctor knows immediately what the problem may be. His doctor asks him if he is using (names the app). My friend said he hadn't told anyone and especially not his doctor. This surprised even me, but it turns out that the application was owned by one insurance company and the data storage was owned by another insurance company. Together they had purchased several apps and storage rights to the data generated.

The doctor said he had several patients that were caught in this system. What the outcome will be, I don't know. Even my friend does not know what will happen. He has receive a third letter stating that his premium will not go up, but is waiting for the next bad news letter.

My friend has stopped using the app and says he will not buy another medical app. His doctor says that in the future, he needs to find out who owns a piece of each app before purchasing it. I am relying on my friend for the information that he provided, but this points out problems we need to be conscious of when purchasing and using medical apps.

Trisha Torrey who writes for About dot Com tells a different concern about the use of data by an insurance company. I would urge you to take time to read her information here. This also points out the need to be aware of where the information generated by the app you purchased in good faith, is being used without your knowledge. I agree that none of us would trust an insurance company with our personal medical data although we have to get claims paid, but they don't need every medical detail generated by a medical app.

In my research and reading, I do read several doctor blogs and blogs by people in health information technology (HIT). Many are talking about medical applications, but only as they relate to integrating the information into your electronic health record (EHR). They have not even been concerned about who else had access to this information. The doctors are only concerned about what they may gain from the health app without expending funds.

The next five to ten years will be very interesting with the proliferation of medical applications. I will be watching to see if we see more of what I have described as I can believe with all the greed that many companies have, we will need to be very careful how our personal data is captured and used. The other area of concern needs to be how well future applications are able to work together and if we can avoid the overly proprietary applications available today.

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