Benefits outweigh risks – so far
Imagine getting a text message on a sunny day to remind you to go for a walk if you’re trying to keep up your momentum after cardiac rehab, or a notification popping up with a sleep tip if your smartwatch finds you haven’t gotten enough ZZZ’s this week. Without advanced consumer devices that allow for data collection and synthesis, these kinds of interactions would still be a faraway dream. But these interventions are already here, or just around the corner.
And they have the potential to help patients better manage their own health, the authors believe.
“We’re learning how to leverage digital technology, like smartphones and wearables, to engage patients in their health, improve remote monitoring of health conditions and potentially deliver targeted interventions outside of the clinic appointment,” Golbus says.
The authors say they don’t want to scare patients or providers away from embracing these potential improvements to research and patient care, because the benefits presently outweigh the risks. However, the risks of commercial exploitation and privacy harms should be addressed, they write.
“We simply think it’s important to make sure providers who are encouraging their patients to use this technology are also able to have conversations with their patients about data privacy,” Golbus says.
The need for education and advocacy
Golbus and colleagues suggest urgently addressing two areas: provider education and legislation. This, they believe, would help researchers continue to harness more data than they’ve ever had access to before to improve health and disease prevention and treatment, while also protecting their patients’ privacy.
“It could be helpful for patients to provide doctors with their heart rate and blood pressure measurements collected using wearable devices,” co-author Nallamothu added. “But this means we have a responsibility to educate patients and ourselves about potential downstream uses of that data.”
This is a problem that will be difficult for consumers to solve on their own, the authors say.
As in many other commercial areas, data are being collected at large scale with little understanding by the public. Beyond the need for health care providers to learn about and raise awareness of the risks to using commercially available applications, the authors say the government should also ensure better protection of consumer data.
The responsibility shouldn’t be placed only on the shoulders of consumers worrying about to whom they’ve consented to data sharing, they write.
“The U.S. is living in the past with regard to data protection,” co-author Price says. “We’ve got privacy law from a world where health data means what your doctor writes in your medical chart. We’re not in that world anymore. The law needs to change.”
Paper cited: “Privacy Gaps for Digital Cardiology Data,” Circulation. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.044966