An App Apt To Cause Privacy Concerns

Technology mines patients’ electronic medical records and directs them to Amazon to shop for medical devices.

HIPPA, enacted in 1996, wasn’t constructed to deal with this. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) today reports on a new development in health care in which doctors, using an app within electronic medical records, can direct patients to Amazon to buy such things as slings and blood pressure cuffs.

Health systems, such as UPMC in Pittsburgh, have only begun using the tool, developed by Xealth, so there’s no way of knowing yet just how much it has caught on. But do patients using the app risk giving away information to Amazon that the giant online retailer can then use for pinpoint marketing? That’s a concern raised by privacy experts.

Kirsten Martin, a George Washington University associate professor who studies privacy and technology, tells the newspaper that “we do not want companies to know intimate knowledge about us as they can manipulate us or use it when it is not in our interest.”

HIPPA doesn’t really address a situation where a patient might share information with an app or a retailer like Amazon.

Xealth plugs into electronic health record systems. “Then a doctor can call up a list of potential products, select the specific products for referral and then send the email that ultimately directs the patient to Amazon,” the WSJ reports.

Providers say that the app makes it easier for patients who then don’t have to deal with handwritten shopping lists of items they might need. The lists can be lost or misinterpreted, and patients sometimes have a difficult time finding the items at the drug store.

“We’re looking for ways to make that [process] more convenient,” Glenn Updike, a technology official at UPMC, tells the WSJ.