Duke program allows patients track, share health data from phones

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The future of healthcare is happening now in the Triangle.

Patients are sending their information to doctors in real time, allowing physicians to intervene much sooner than they ever could before.

Duke is one of the first two hospitals in the country testing out a new program to let patients track and share health data from their phones.

Ed Hammond II, age 81, is part of the pilot program.
Ed Hammond II, age 81, is part of the pilot program.

Ed Hammond II is part of the pilot program. At 81 years old, he doesn’t want to slow down. He’s a competitive ballroom dancee and closely watches his health.

A few times a week he takes his blood pressure and pulse readings, and sends the results to his doctor instantly on his iPhone through Apple’s HealthKit platform.

He saw the benefits back in May when his physician was able to spot his blood pressure dropping.

He recalls having “a couple of dizzy spells, probably as a consequence of the lower blood pressure.”

He was nowhere near home. He was in France. But, his doctor was able to adjust his medication accordingly.

“And, I haven’t had the episodes since,” says Hammond. “Our last conversation is that I’ve gotten to be very boring.”

Ricky Bloomfield, the head of mobile technology at Duke Medicine, said Duke was the first to implement this program along with Stanford in 2014.

“The current state-of-the-art prior to HealthKit was something called a 3×5 index card,” says Bloomfield.

HealthKit can track a wide variety of data about you from blood pressure to weight.

One of the challenges in expanding this to more patients is how to manage all of that data for the people who need to make sense of it.

healthtsr“If every patient were enabled for this technology and all of these alerts started going into our providers, it could be overwhelming,” says Bloomfield.

Duke is starting out by just working with a small number of patients with certain conditions such as heart disease.

“Hopefully, we can do something to help that patient before they get to the point where they need to be admitted to the hospital,” says Bloomfield.

Just like with Hammond, who hasn’t had any major problems since the dizzy spell.

“When a patient realizes that sharing this information will help keep them healthier, they’re going to want to do it,” says Bloomfield.

As this kind of practice becomes more common, one of the big questions is: what can be done to keep your data secure?

“We put all the safeguards in place that we can here, and we protect the data,” said Bloomfield. “We actually have patients sign a form, so that they understand the risks associated because any time you have data on a device there are always risks. There’s nothing we can do about those risks.”

tsrhealthAs Apple developed HealthKit, the Federal Trade Commission raised concerns about what would happen to users’ data. Commissioners became satisfied that Apple’s privacy policy would prevent app developers from sharing info with third parties.

Craig Petronella, who heads up Petronella Technology Group, Inc., in Wake County, says there are still steps that should be taken to better protect sensitive information.

“Every text message, every email they’ve written is all unencrypted on that device,” he says.

Petronella says despite preventive steps companies like Apple and Google take, there are still ways to get that information.

“The part that google and apple will never be able to stop is the ability for any malicious user to add that app in that app store and to be able to essentially build that bomb or build that root kit that has the malicious intent to do what you just said, basically steal that information and send it to a third party,” he says.

In a report to the California Consumer Protection Foundation, attorney Linda Ackerman, who works on health information privacy issues, surveyed health and fitness apps.

According to the study, 26 percent of the free apps had no privacy policies at all. Beyond that, 39 percent of them sent data to a third party not disclosed by the developer either in the app or in a privacy policy. To read the study, click here. (Link:  https://www.privacyrights.org/mobile-medical-apps-privacy-consumer-report.pdf   )

“Your name, your address, your phone number, your birthdate, your social security number, whatever potentially private information that you’re typing in, it’s unencrypted, which is why it’s unsafe,” says Petronella.

Researchers in Illinois also found while some apps may encrypt information as its sent over the Internet, that info ends up being stored by a third party. To read more, click here. (Link:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4419898/   )

Bloomfield notes, “Data breaches (are) really part of the world that we live in right now. There’s a joke that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who have been hacked and those who don’t know it yet.”

Petronella says overall, sharing medical data has benefits, but more will need to be done to protect patients.tsrhealth3

“It is a good thing potentially, but there needs to be an overhaul of the foundational security. So, there needs to be an overhaul of the kernel, the operating system and how it’s taking the data that you’re typing in. That needs to be encrypted,” he says.

At Duke, all the information patients send is considered part of their medical record, so it’s kept private and can’t be shared.

But, there are a variety of steps you can take if you use these kinds of apps to better protect yourself.

Petronella encouraged people to encrypt the keyboards on their phones, use two-factor authentication and have identity theft protection. To learn more about how to do all of those things, click here. (Link: http://www.petronellacomputer.com/blog/it-security/malware-in-app-store-google-play-potential-for-healthkit )

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