mHealth Apps – Handling the security flaws

Mobile-health or mHealth refers to the use of mobile devices for practicing medicine and for supporting public health. mHealth apps entered the markets to expand into the only space that mobile devices hadn’t completely embraced yet- healthcare. A survey on how mobile devices are used for medical purposes pops up with astonishing numbers where over 70% of smartphone users surf through drug information (like side effects and dosage calculation). Almost half of the respondents in the category of tablet users make use of their mobile devices to search for clinical reference tools backed by evidence during the points of care.

While the number of people installing the mHealth apps is increasing, there is high level of uninstallation after use too. Why do customers abandon the mHealth apps? The answer generally revolves around major shortcomings that are not taken into consideration during the development process.

When a company decides to produce mHealth app, then they must answer the following questions:

  1. What are the needs of patients? Will the app respond to them?
  2. The patients will share sensitive information on the app. Will the data be protected adequately? How?
  3. Will the app be easily usable for a layperson? Would it involve excessive navigation or have a clear interface?


Here are the three major shortcomings and ways to avoid them:



When an app is developed, the medical experts are generally left out of the process. This generally happens because the doctors find it hard to convert their knowledge into the developers’ technical jargon while the developers pay low attention to customizing the app for medical purpose specifically. Thus, there needs to be a medium that can form a line of communication between the developers and medical practitioners.

Generally, developers use secondary links for providing information. This can be dangerous since it leads to misdiagnoses and partial treatment suggestions. For instance, an app that claims to cure acne using light from the phone could lead to dermal accidents in case it is used with incorrect hardware. Recently, FDA banned the entry of many apps of this form. To avoid such issues, the developers must make sure that the apps agree with the FDA rules and other accreditation schemes like CE scores.



The main security issue while creating a mHealth app is the theft and misuse of sensitive medical information.             Such patient information could be used for alleging wrong claims from insurance companies. This endangers health care and rightful handling of claims. When the mHealth apps are developed, needs of every element in the pipeline must be taken into account- this includes medical practitioner, patient and other stakeholders like insurance agents. They should be bound within a stringent security framework like those of HIPAA which regulates the disclosure of sensitive data. As of mid-2014, the main issues within security of mHealth app included: the tele-health communication services were not in the jurisdiction of HIPAA, device manufacturers and mobile app developers could share sensitive data with third parties (advertisers and others), privacy laws of HIPAA could leave medical communication out of the equation often.

Under the title of “Privacy and Security in Mobile Health (mHealth) Research”, Yttri, Arora and Nilsen remarked the need to “mitigate security risks without impeding use and to set up a system that recovers from potential breaches”. Some ways for reducing the probability of data theft is by setting up restricted access to applications and biometric access options. Industries in the retail and banking sectors have strict security framework which can be duplicated with field-specific alterations to deal with security issues.



Customer experience is the pulse of the entire mHealth app because the patient is trusting the enterprise with their most important decisions. The atmosphere within the app should stimulate trust and respect towards the clients. This will be reflected through the design and structure. When a mHealth app is being formulated, the main characters must be the patients. What kind of environment and interface would you like in case you were coming to the app with worries about a symptom and anxiety of potential disease? Or to keep check on a pre-existent condition?

The images which are published will need high-resolution screens. This will allow the company access to minute information. Remember that the brightness of a pixel is converted to Hounsfield encoded units. This decides the prescribed dosage of medicine. It will be easy to decipher reports when view ports are set up appropriately.


In this manner, mHealth apps could cater to needs of not only the patient but to the medical practitioners through stronger security, impeccable expertise and seamless experience.

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Author : Sahana Rajan Date : 27 Apr 2016