Privacy Concerns Over Hunt Health Apps Plan

The plans of Jeremy Hunt to produce NHS-approved health apps with the intention of improving the delivery of patient records and healthcare, have already led to privacy concerns.

NHS.UK will feature a choice of health software intended to assist patients with monitoring their own health and vital signs.

Data from the applications, and also wearable activity trackers such as Fitbits, will feed directly into people’s personal health records.

Hunt himself pushed the functionality of Fitbit, indicating that he himself utilises the technology.

“We are going to make very big moves in the next 12 months into apps and wearables. I wear a Fitbit; many people use apps. What is going to change with apps is the way that these apps link directly into our own medical records. And by March next year NHS England are going to publish a library of approved apps in areas like mental health and chronic conditions like diabetes,” Hunt commented.

But experts from Infosec are far from an enthusiastic about the proposal, at least in terms of the potential privacy issues which it could create.

Paul Farrington, EMEA solution architects manager at application security specialists Veracode, believes that the privacy and security legislative framework in relation to this policy is woefully inadequate.

“Creating a truly digital NHS requires both investment in the latest apps and wearables alongside a rigorous security policy to give patients and healthcare professionals complete assurance that their data is secure. This is a bold initiative from our world class health service and one which will undoubtedly provide more personalised and efficient healthcare to millions, but there are inevitable risks around privacy and security which must be tackled from the outset”.

Farrington went on to explain some of the dangers of which the general public may not be particularly aware.

“With apps becoming ubiquitous in our daily lives, hackers are increasingly seeking to exploit coding vulnerabilities to steal identities and personal information. That’s why it’s vital that our NHS ensures approved apps for both patients and professionals are thoroughly tested and secure to enable confidence in the service’s digital journey”.

NHS.UK, a relaunched reboot of the NHS Choices website, will now enable patients to acquire advice and call-backs from healthcare professionals.

Individuals will be able to enter their symptoms and receive tailored responses.

Meanwhile, the existing NHS 111 non-emergency phone line service will be expanded to include a new online ‘triage’ service for less serious health problems.

Nonetheless, Tony Pickering, professional services director of Ricoh UK, was equally emphatic on the need for a joined-up legislative procedure to accompany this initiative.

“Providing patients with instant access to healthcare records through approved apps and wearables is a positive step towards a paperless NHS. But this initiative must be supported by a wider strategy designed to improve the management of health records, safely and securely. Accelerating the digitisation of paper-based records, designing improved sharing processes and new ways of working should all be top of the health secretary’s to do list”.


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