Data Privacy & Compliance
Why Should Data Privacy Be The #1 Concern Of Every Health App Developer?

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February 12, 2021
Countly Team
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We dare you to go to your mobile device and search for a health and wellness app already installed. Truth is, even if you did not actually download it, your operating system most likely came with at least one app like that. Now, you might have chosen to delete such an app, in which case, we lost the dare. But it does not deny the fact that your mobile device, the very one that lets you shop, communicate, work, or travel, has just as much potential to assist in your well-being.

“Well-being” is the key here, especially after months of isolation during which many fitness apps saw record growth in their download rates — and profit. Legacy healthcare providers, government-sponsored health trackers, innovative wellness start-ups, and many others converged in a digital environment populated by millions of users and their personal data. So much personal data that if mismanaged even for a single bit -pun intended-, would not only have legal consequences, but also the total loss of the users’ trust. Keep your app compliant, never betray your users’ privacy, and find out what the future of health apps might look like, all in this blog post.

From Mhealth To Wearables

Mobile applications related to health and wellness are able to give medical or good health advice to educate users and keep them aware about their health habits — or lack thereof. Basically, they are the dream of any traditional wellness organization, because it opens a direct line of communication and gives them instant access to their patients’ conditions. Throw a pandemic in the mix and we will have tons of traditional providers and new advice-givers competing to find their users at home.

First, let’s highlight a bit of a difference here. “Traditional providers” are those that due to the pandemic, needed an mHealth solution to the typical physical interaction surrounding medical services. In many cases, the process of digitalization of their services and digitization of medical records had been started well before 2020 including for example, telemedicine and online consultations. On the other hand, we have applications that monitor health activity that were conceived as a digital service a priori, anything from meditation and exercise apps to wearables. The line between both groups is not necessarily a solid one. For example, a diabetic patient might have a consultation via their regular health provider’s app and is required to provide historical data logged via a third-party, purposely designed app.

Obviously, apps from both groups have gained massive traction in 2020. For example, meditation apps had download growth rates consistently above 20%and fitness apps grew a worldwide average of 46%, all between Q1 and Q2 2020. In fact, revenue from fitness apps and wearables were expected to grow 31% in 2020, with a yearly growth rate of 24% until 2027, according to a Reports and Data research.

In Data Protection We Trust

The need to satisfy the demand for health and wellness products simply cannot go against the interests of the users and the amount of PII they pour into these apps.

The economic potential of these advancements is huge, and so are the benefits for the users. But the need to satisfy a demand for health and wellness products should never go against the interests of the users, especially when considering the amount of personally identifiable information poured into apps of this nature. The protection of that information not only has an ever-growing legal framework around the world but it is almost an ethical obligation; the same way that traditionally medical workers swear confidentiality, we should have similar expectations for how medical apps respect people’s privacy, correct?

But before diving deeper into the protection of health-related data points, some brief considerations about data:

  • It should not be kept for a period longer than necessary.
  • It should be gathered only for specific, explicitly stated, and legitimate purposes.
  • It should be processed correctly and, if necessary, kept up-to-date.
  • It must be rectified, blocked or erased, if incorrect or incomplete for the intended purpose.

Government officials across the world approach data protection in different ways to make sure the above premises are fulfilled. For example, the HIPAA regulations in the United States include a Privacy Rule meant to protect all “individually identifiable health information” held or transmitted by a covered entity or its business associate, in any form or media, whether electronic, paper, or oral. Meanwhile, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) includes limitations such as mandating that PII data must under no circumstances leave EU servers. GDPR also regulates data traffic, ruling data to be sent encrypted with strong encryption rules. Especially when using TCP/IP, HTTPS protocols should be used and sending mixed content to own servers is strictly prohibited. Moreover, strong data-at-rest encryption must be enabled, and in the case of a breach, no sensitive data should be allowed to be stolen from data centers.

The Double Front

Users tend to be quick to grant permissions and consent when they trust the provider of the service or product they are about to receive (think of the times you said “yes” to terms and conditions just because the provider had good reviews). Apps are responsible for keeping up with all the legal framework we just discussed, but at the same time, many of the users are actually not aware of all the data being tracked.

The problem here is that with the amount of PII data health-related apps process, they are a growing target of attacks. And this is crucial given the unique sensitivity of medical data. According to the US’s National Center for Biotechnology Information

  • The total number of healthcare records that were exposed, stolen, or illegally disclosed in the year 2019 was 41.2 million in 505 healthcare data breaches”
  • “The average cost of a data breach increased by 12% from 2014 to 2019”

Amid the first ripples of the Coronavirus pandemic, health providers started noticing that their patients’ data could be at risk. And this point, from a product design standpoint, must be an absolute priority in the development of health apps. If anything goes wrong, the app loses on both fronts: the legal and the business.

Privacy By Design

The bottomline then is that privacy engineering and ethical design must guide the development of healthcare apps. Healthcare and wellness is moving towards an mHealth-first approach that is extremely data sensitive. For example, Germany approved laws that enable third-party mHealth apps to be covered under public health insurance plans. This is huge! But it also emphasizes the need for products compliant with the applicable regulatory frameworks.

For that purpose, Countly has developed itself as a solution up to that task, offering a flexible architecture that keeps every data point secure from end to end and is embedded with data privacy at its core. You can discover how easily our product will adapt to your needs by booking a demo with us; or just drop us a line! Also, check out our whole suite of privacy-protection features.

When it comes to designing a health app, your users’ privacy must be integral to the product in addition to it being a matter of legal compliance, because your organization cannot afford to lose their trust. Countly is the solution that will securely empower that process at every stage of the product’s entire lifecycle, so you can focus on what is important: giving your users the product their trust deserves.

taGS
Product Development
Privacy
Data Security
GDPR
Weareables
Healthcare Technology

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