Like ordering a ride or food delivery on your smartphone, keeping track of your heart rate, blood pressure or weight is just a few taps away thanks to thousands of free or inexpensive health apps.
But with each click, you may be unwittingly handing over your health data to a third party.
As health apps skyrocket in popularity, experts and medical organizations have begun warning consumers of the hidden dangers. In May, the American Medical Association called on lawmakers and the health care industry to install “regulatory guardrails” to protect all types of patient privacy in the digital age.
Until that happens, health app users are largely unprotected from having their data passed along to tech giants and marketing companies that might target them with ads, said Mohammed Abdullah, senior author of a new study about privacy issues and apps.
“Right now, there are no limitations on what companies can do with this data,” said Abdullah, a medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “As technology and health care become further intertwined and companies spend billions of dollars on health care-related apps, it’s becoming more and more important to make sure we have checks and balances in place.”
That’s because the data on health apps, he said, is not safeguarded by HIPAA, the 1996 law that protects health information gathered by doctors and health systems.
“Right now, it’s like the Wild West, with zero protection,” said Dr.