How to navigate mental health apps that may share your data | News and Commentary

If you’ve ever assumed that information shared on a mental health app was confidential, you’re in good shape with many others who are likely to assume that sensitive medical information is always protected. This is it Not True, however, it is important to understand why.

Many of us are familiar with or active users of some types of digital health apps. Whether it is nutrition, fitness, sleep or wakefulness tracking, the arena of apps that can help us track aspects of our health has never been Larger. Likewise, platforms that help us reach healthcare providers and receive virtual care are becoming more available, and often necessary, during pandemic. Online therapy in Special Over the years, it became awkward Resources For many people during quarantine and living remotely.

Making health and care resources more accessible to people is vital, and easy access to health resources directly from your phone is evident.

However, among manyheavy Ramifications From Raw vs. Wade After that it was overturned region number From Digital aggregate Fears. A lot of emphasis has been placed lately on menstrual or fertility tracking apps, as well as location information, reasonably well. On July 8, the House Oversight Committee introduced Letters Data brokers and health companies “request information and documentation relating to the collection and sale of personal reproductive health data.”

What is less discussed is the significant gap in legal protection for all types of medical information shared across digital platforms, all of which should be subject to better regulation and oversight.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released its update guidance On mobile phones, health information and HIPAAto confirm that the HIPAA Privacy Rule is working Not Applicable to most health applications because it is notCovered entities” according to the law.” The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that creates a privacy rule for “our medical records” and “other individually identifiable health information” during the flow of certain health care transactions. Most applications that are individually user-defined are not covered – only platforms that are used or developed specifically for traditional healthcare providers (eg a clinic’s digital patient portal where they send you messages or test results).

Mental health apps are a telling example. They, like other digital health applications, in general non-binding Under the privacy laws that apply to traditional healthcare providers. This is particularly troubling because people often seek out mental health platforms specifically in order to discuss difficult or traumatic experiences with sensitive implications. HIPAA and State laws On this issue will need to be modified to specifically include application-based digital platforms as covered entities. For example, California currently has a file pending invoice That would bring mental health applications within the scope of the state’s Medical Information Privacy Act.

It is important to note that even HIPAA has exceptions for law enforcement, so placing these applications within the scope of HIPAA will not preclude government requests for this data. It will be more useful in organizing the information that is shared with data brokers and companies such as Facebook and Google.

One example of information that is shared is what is collected during an “intake survey” that must be filled out in prominent services like Talkspace and BetterHelp in order to be matched with a provider. Questions cover highly sensitive information: gender identity, age, sexual orientation, mental health history (including details such as when or if you’ve contemplated suicide, and whether you’ve had panic attacks or phobias), sleeping habits, medications, and symptoms current, etc. These entrance answers were found by Jezebel for everyone subscriber With an analytics company from BetterHelp, along with the approximate location and user device.

Another type is all your “metadata” (i.e. data about data) the use From the app, Consumer Reports discovered this can included The fact that you are a user of a mental health app. Other information can be shared included How long do you use the app, how long are your sessions with your therapist, how long do you send messages on the app, what are the times you log in, what times do you message/talk to your therapist, your approximate location, how often do you open the app, etc. Data brokers, Facebook, and Google were found to be among the beneficiaries of this information from Talkspace and BetterHelp. Apps regularly justify sharing information about users if this data is “anonymised,” but anonymized data can Easily To be connected to you when combined with other information.

Besides collecting and sharing this data, data retention by health apps is incredibly opaque. Many of these apps do Not It has clear policies about how long it takes keeps your data, and there is no rule that obliges them to do so. HIPAA does not create any record-retention requirements – they are regulated by state laws and are unlikely to include health applications as their subject practitioners. For example, New York State required Licensed mental health practitioners to keep records for at least six years, but the application itself is not a practitioner or licensed. It may also ask you to delete your account or data Not Remove everything, but there’s no way to know what’s left. It is not clear how long sensitive information they collect and hold about you may at some point in the future be available to law enforcement authorities.

Accordingly, here are a few things to keep in mind when navigating health apps that may share your data:

Access to the care created by these types of apps is more than just critical, and everyone should strive to get the care they need, including across these platforms if it’s the best option for you (and it works for many people). It is important to be as informed as possible when using them and to take the steps available to you to increase your privacy.

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