The imperative of safety in mHealth and why it can't be ignored

Technology is a wonderful thing, except when it's not. The wireless network crashes, the PC blows up, the tablet gets a virus, smartphones go missing. And in each of those scenarios, data and access to data is potentially compromised.

It's no different with mHealth devices. Smartwatches, health fitness bands, wearable monitors woven into clothing, smartphones that feature blood testing capabilities--they all collect, share and house data. We believe it will be there when we need it, we believe it will be accurate and we believe it should be infallible, given all the technological advances.

The truth, however,  is that technology is not infallible and given the confidential and critical data mHealth tools are collecting and storing, no one should be under any belief that it's truly safe and always accessible.

Two recent studies, amidst a swarm of research and news headlines touting the tremendous benefits of mHealth devices and apps, prove mHealth tech needs some serious work before they can deliver on accuracy, security and consistency. 

One of the studies claims one-third of 176 YouTube hypertension and blood pressure videos reviewed by researchers are giving consumers "misleading" information and may be recommending therapies that haven't been sanctioned by credible medical agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The researchers acknowledge that a majority of the videos were "useful" in terms of blood pressure medical insight, though.

The second study focused on home-based blood pressure devices connected to smartphones, specifically Apple's iPhone. Software tracks the user's blood pressure results and lets consumers and patients share data with medical professionals. The research states the results from such devices can be inaccurate, giving too high or too low a number.

Dominic Sica, president-elect of the American Society of Hypertension, told HealthDay the results indicate that such tools require deeper investigation and improvement on accuracy. "This technology clearly needs better refinement," said Sica, who did not participate in either study.

And therein lies the imperative facing mHealth: Everyone from vendors to payers must collaborate and make sure all the apps, device add ons and new 'ways' of delivering and collecting healthcare knowledge and data are accurate and secure.

The potential for mHealth apps and devices to have a negative impact is a reality, so before any greater innovations come to fruition, what's already on the market must be shown to be safe. Consumers dealing with high blood pressure should be assured that the fitness band recording their heart rate during a workout is accurate.

In the meantime consumers shouldn't be swapping out actual physician time for potential device efficiency, especially if the technology is not yet on par with face-to-face interaction with a clinician. -  Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)