Most mHealth Apps Lack Privacy Policies

Only 30% of the most commonly used mHealth apps have privacy policies.

The majority of mobile health care (mHealth) apps do not have privacy policies, and those that do tend to publish policies that are long and hard to understand, recent research suggests.

The results of a study published online in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association showed that only 183 of the 600 most commonly used mHealth apps that are available for iOS and Android devices have a privacy policy. Those policies, however, are 1755 words in length, on average, and require a college-level education to understand. Furthermore, the policies do not address the app specifically, the researchers found.

“The privacy policies that are available do not make information privacy practices transparent to users, require college-level literacy, and are often not focused on the app itself,” the authors concluded.

In response to their findings, the researchers recommended conducting further studies to determine why privacy policies for mHealth apps are absent, opaque, or irrelevant.

An FDA rule issued on September 25, 2013, regulates mobile apps that function as medical devices, including those that provide medical readings or diagnostic examinations. The guidance, however, does not cover medical apps that record blood pressure or blood glucose levels, nor does it regulate medication adherence apps.

In a study published in the March/April 2013 edition of Journal of the American Pharmacists Association and covered by Pharmacy Times, a team of University of Arkansas researchers determined that mobile apps have the potential to improve patient health, particularly in the area of medication adherence. Their analysis showed a multitude of apps for smartphones, but found none that actively incorporated the pharmacist.

Despite this, the researchers concluded that mHealth apps have the potential to fill gaps between health care provider visits, though they should not be viewed as a solution for every case.