DORTMUND, Germany – Many mHealth apps do not provide adequate security when transmitting data, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Researchers at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Germany tested 53 of the most downloaded free mHealth apps for data transport issues, with 40% of the apps failing the test. Private information was leaked from 18 of the apps and 17 used unprotected connections. “Insufficient transport security can lead to confidentiality issues for patients and medical professionals, as well as safety issues regarding data integrity,” wrote the study’s authors. “mHealth apps should therefore deploy intensified vigilance to protect their data and integrity.”
MONTREAL – Tactio Health Group has teamed up with Medical International Research for a telehealth solution designed specifically to monitor COPD patients remotely. The solution adds Bluetooth-enabled MIR spirometers that integrate with TactioPM patient apps. “With MIR SmartOne, COPD patients being monitored remotely with TactioRPM systems can benefit from an easy and simple way to self-test, report and exchange with their pneumologist,” said Michel Nadeau, CEO of Tactio, in a statement. MIR SmartOne is a portable FEV1 and Peak Flow meter enabling simple personal self-tracking of lung health with clinical accuracy. Tactio RPM is an app-enabled platform that combines mobile apps, connected health integrations, patient questionnaires and digital coaching programs.
BELMONT, Mass. – Many health apps designed to assist dementia patients and their caregivers have inadequate security policies, or lack security policies altogether, researchers at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School have found. “No one using an app for a mental health-related reason should assume that privacy and security measures are in place,” said Dr. Ipsit Vahia, one of the researchers, in a statement. In a paper published recently in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the team of researchers said they analyzed privacy polices of iPhone apps that collect user-generated content. Of the 125 apps the team reviewed, 72 collected user-generated content, but only 33 had privacy policies available. Vahia said the research also points to a role for professional organizations and advocacy groups in helping educate mHealth consumers on how to best make decisions about using this technology.
SILVER SPRING, Md. – Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, recently revealed the agency’s plans to establish a more efficient approach to digital health device regulation—and industry experts are cautiously optimistic.
“The streamlined certification process is a step in the right direction,” said Xu Zou, CEO of Internet of Things security software provider ZingBox.
Gottlieb’s Digital Health Innovation Plan calls for the government to establish public health policies that are clear enough for developers to apply on their own, without having to seek out the FDA’s position on every technology change or software development on a case-by-case basis.
“Smart devices make streamlining the FDA’s approval process a necessity,” said Jacques Touillon, CEO and co-founder of Airboxlab, maker of smart air quality monitoring devices.
“The current system worked when changing the function of a device meant shipping a whole new product, but today developers can add entirely new features to a product as it sits on a user’s nightstand, simply by updating the software over the Internet,” he said.
In his blog post that laid out the new plans, Gottlieb said the FDA will establish guidelines specifying the boundaries around low-risk technologies like some mobile health apps and clinical administrative support software. In addition, the agency will add other technologies that could be considered low-risk.
The commissioner also described a new third-party certification pilot program, still under development, under which lower-risk digital health products could be marketed without FDA premarket review and higher-risk products could be marketed with a streamlined FDA premarket review.
Zou said that while the FDA’s plans may help streamline the certification process, device security must be a top priority.
“History has shown that where new features and innovation go, so do the hackers and malware,” he said. “As the requirements of FDA certification relaxes, device manufacturers and health care providers must plan for the additional security needed to protect the more feature-rich devices.”
NORWALK, Calif. – Serene Innovations introduced two smartphone-based notification devices at the recent Hearing Loss Association of American convention. The InstaLink Wearable Smartphone Alert allows users to see what’s coming in on their smartphone through a mobile app. A quiet vibration and discreet flashing light alerts the wearer to any calls, text messages, medication reminders or selected social media notifications. The Wireless Super Bed Shaker also uses a mobile app, and when slipped under a pillow or mattress before bedtime, its progressively strong vibrations are set to begin when an alarm goes off. It can also be programmed for phone calls, message alerts and other notifications.
BOSTON – Most dementia apps lack privacy policies, according to the results of a Harvard Medical School study that was published recently in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. “Despite tremendous growth in the number of health apps, little is known about the adequacy of protections for app users’ health data,” said the researchers. “This is particularly concerning for apps targeting dementia patients, whose cognitive impairment puts them at increased risk of privacy breaches.” Researchers evaluated 125 dementia apps, 33 of which had available privacy policies. They found that among policies detailing individual-level protections, the majority had missing information and acknowledged collecting individual data for internal purposes. Most also named instances in which user data would be shared with outside parties. “Bolstering safeguards and improving communication about privacy protections will help facilitate consumer trust in apps, thereby enabling greater use by adults with dementia and their caregivers,” the researchers concluded.
ZURICH – Researchers from the European Society of Cardiology have found a huge variability between commercially available heart rate apps.
Their research was published recently in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
“The problem is that there is no law requiring validation of these apps and therefore no way for consumers to know if the results are accurate,” said Dr. Christopher Wyss, an author of the research paper.
The study included 108 participants and tested the accuracy of four randomly-selected, commercially available heart rate apps using two smartphones. Some apps use contact photoplethysmography (touching the fingertip to the phone’s built-in camera) and others use non-contact photoplethysmography (camera is held in front of face).
Accuracy was assessed by comparing the results to the clinical gold standard measurements—the electrocardiogram and fingertip pulse oximetry.
In some apps there were differences of more than 20 beats per minute, compared to ECG in more than 20% of the measurements, the researchers found. The non-contact apps worked less well than contact apps, particularly at higher heart rates and lower body temperatures. The non-contact apps had a tendency to overestimate higher heart rates.
“Consumers and interpreting physicians need to be aware that the differences between apps are huge and there are no criteria to assess them,” said Wyss.
ONTARIO, Canada – People with COPD could be persuaded to increase their levels of physical activity through a mobile app, a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has found.
“The findings suggest a system that supports dialogue between the user and the technology, alongside supporting the primary task to promote self-regulation of physical activity, is likely to be acceptable to people with COPD and perceived as persuasive,” said the study’s authors in an article published in the JMIR.
The study examined three prototypes for mobile apps using different persuasive technology design principles: dialogue support, primary task support and social support. Opinions of the prototypes were gathered from people with COPD, caregivers and health care professionals, and participants also ranked how likely techniques would be to convince them to use a technology designed to support physical activity.
The prototypes for mobile apps were positively received by participants and the prototype using a dialogue support approach was identified as the most likely to be used or recommended.
“Dialogue support and primary task support approaches are considered to be both acceptable and likely to be persuasive by people with COPD, caregivers and health care professionals,” the researchers said. “In the future, these approaches should be considered when designing apps to encourage physical activity by people with COPD.”
BRISBANE, Australia – ConnectUs Life has announced the launch of RightMinder, an app that provides fall detection, monitoring and alerts, GPS location reporting and caregiver connections. “Our core focus is to ensure wearers maintain meaningful independence with an efficient yet discreet safety and security alert system,” said Ben Slater, ConnectUs Life CIO, in a statement. RightMinder wearers are securely connected to one or more caregivers who can monitor battery life, location and access to fast-touch call buttons. If a wearer triggers a fall detection or sends an emergency first alert, their caregivers receive immediate notifications and emails for an emergency response. “RightMinder has been created to connect ‘wearers’ and ‘carers,’” said Slater.
CHICAGO – Use of a mobile app for breast reconstruction patients resulted in fewer post-surgery follow-up appointments, according to a study recently published in JAMA Surgery.
“Mobile app follow-up care affects neither complication rates nor patient-reported satisfaction scores, but it improves patient-reported convenience scores,” said the authors of the study.
The study included 65 women with an average age of 47, who were ambulatory patients undergoing breast reconstruction at an academic ambulatory care hospital. Patients were randomly assigned to receive follow-up care through a mobile app or at an in-person visit during the first 30 days after the operation.
The mobile app group included 32 women, and the in-person follow-up group included 33 women.
Those in the mobile app group attended an average of 0.66 in-person visits, compared to 1.64 from the in-person group. The mobile app group also sent more emails to their health care professionals during the 30 days following surgery, and reported higher convenience scores.
There was no significant difference between the groups in the number of telephone communications, satisfaction scores or complication rates.
“Mobile app follow-up care is suitably targeted to low-risk post-operative ambulatory patients,” said the authors. “These are important findings given the current demands on the health care system and the push toward patient-centric care.”