Apps targeting those with dementia lack security for patient data

Health applications meant to assist those in need could possibly be harming users with less than satisfactory privacy. A study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry presented researchers’ evaluations of safety standards in health apps meant to help patients with cognitive impairments.

Patients with these conditions, such as dementia, could greatly benefit from apps to keep track of their daily lives, yet the protection level of these apps is unknown. This study analyzed dementia apps for privacy policies and how well they could protect patient information.

Led by Lisa Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, researchers analyzed all iPhone apps mentioning “medical & dementia” and “health, fitness and dementia.” Of the 72 apps mentioning dementia and related content, only 46 percent presented a privacy policy; 58 percent of the apps with privacy policies specifically addressed the app being used; and 76 percent identified how patient data were being managed. Of the apps identifying how data were being managed, researchers found a trend for missing information, data collection for internal purposes and shared data outside the user.

“At present, the majority of health apps focused on dementia lack a privacy policy, and those that do exist lack clarity,” said Rosenfeld and colleges. “Bolstering safeguards and improving communication about privacy protections will help facilitate consumer trust in apps, thereby enabling more widespread and meaningful use by people with dementia and those involved in their care.”