Data sharing insight delivers a reality check

When it comes to mobile healthcare technology, there sometimes tend to be waves of hype--everyone's on a smartphone, everyone has a fitness tracker, everyone's eager to track and monitor each and every data point, etc.

In some cases, the hype is warranted, as we've reported amazing success stories to varying degrees, from pilots to full-throttle mHealth deployments, that are providing patients with great benefits and payers and providers with deeper data for better decision making. It seems the more I read about digital health, the more I can easily be led to believe its nirvana is on the horizon.

Yet, in other cases, the hype is not warranted and serves as a reality check of where mHealth is when it comes to consumer adoption.

One such reality check is delivered in a recent study regarding what mobile device users are willing to share in regard to healthcare data.

First the good news: the study, which analyzed the data of 3,165 patients, reveals that a large majority are eager to share data in general, and 95 percent are very willing to exchange information regarding appointment reminders, general health tips, medication reminders, lab and test results, lifestyle behavior data, vital signs and symptoms.

Now the bad news: Not too many are willing, or have even taken steps, to share data deemed personal or confidential. Just a smidge over 6 percent report using an app to exchange health data via mobile device in the past year.

While the study doesn't delve into the 'why,' we can make some educated guesses as to why consumers may not feel comfortable sharing personal health information. Many likely fear of having it stolen; others are probably concerned about having it shared with others; and still others likely worry that it could be used in a damaging way.

Stand in line at any pharmaceutical counter and you'll see people whisper and lean into cashiers to share names and birth dates for picking up prescriptions. No one wants anyone else to know what pills they're taking or what illness they may be dealing with. It's human nature.

If mHealth is to truly advance and progress, it's time to increase that 6 percent statistic.

Step one, however, must be ensuring that such data can and will be protected and confidential. That means prioritizing security from the outset of design. Convincing consumers and patients of the importance of sharing valuable health data then should be step two.  

Rewarding and fostering data exchange in the healthcare scenario is step three.

The reality check delivered via the study reveals it's time to start taking those steps if the true potential of mHealth is to have a chance to catch up with its hype.  - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)