Mobile Devices and Medicine: The Disadvantages of Instantly Available Information Part 2

As discussed in the previous post, smartphones and tablets can be very beneficial in a medical setting. However, many valid concerns exist when it comes to regulation, effectiveness, and security on these devices. Healthcare is under strict security compliance standards, but many of these laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, were written long before smartphones existed.[1] It’s hard for ethical and legal protocol to keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation. Below is a discussion of the consequences of these shortcomings.

Ease of Security Breaches

The double-edged sword of smartphone usage in a medical setting is that they’re personal as well as professional devices. A physician can retrieve medical records and test results anywhere at any time, and this accessibility is extremely useful, but it also increases the chance of security breaches. Mobile viewing and sharing must be HIPAA-compliant, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for organizations to create mobile policies, manage data leakage controls, and conduct regulatory analysis when they are dealing with thousands of different personal devices.[2] If a physician’s phone is lost or hacked, confidentiality of all of their patients could potentially be lost. Worse than that, if various apps that control prescriptions, doses, and vitals are tampered with, lives could even be at risk.[3] If healthcare employees don’t use encryption, device management, and extreme precaution, they can face serious legal allegations as well as endanger their patients.[4]

Ineffectiveness of Apps

In 2014, a study conducted an analysis of more than 40,000 healthcare apps and found that only 16,275 were linked directly to patient care and treatment.[5] Healthcare apps don’t go through a vigorous screening process, so many reach the public without supported claims.[6] Consequently, several have been severely fined by the Federal Trade Commission, but for the poor, the uninsured, and the underinsured, such apps are still used for self diagnosis instead of paying for a doctor’s visit.[7] With so many apps available to consumers, without assistance from a professional, knowing which ones are beneficial is nearly impossible.

Failures of Long-Distance Medicine

While telehealth can be much more convenient, webcam or telephone communication can’t always capture a patient’s true condition. With the self-directed turn medicine has recently taken, patients often search their symptoms on the internet, and their belief in a particular diagnosis before communicating with a doctor can lead them to interpret and explain their symptoms through this lens. While this is a situation that occurs during in-person visits as well, over a mobile device, there is a greater dependence on the observations of the patient. While ongoing conditions are easier to monitor via mobile devices, accurate new diagnoses can be much more difficult.

Whether you are a proponent of new technology or a skeptic, regulations must be in place to help healthcare make the most of what smartphones and tablets have to offer. As new terrain is traversed, the good these devices have already brought to medicine will only increase.


[1] Gamer, Noah, “Mobile devices in health care: How secure are they?” Trend Micro, Jan. 18, 2016,

[2] Diana, Alison, “Securing Mobile Healthcare Devices: Best Practices,” InformationWeek, June 3, 2014,

[3] Gamer, “Mobile devices in health care”

[4] Narisi, Sam, “The new legal risks created by mobile devices in health care,” Healthcare Business & Technology, July 13, 2012,

[5] Whiteman, Honor, “Health apps: do they do more harm than good?” Medical News Today, Sept 26, 2014,

[6] Conn, Joseph, “Easy on those apps: Mobile medical apps gain support, but many lack clinical evidence,” Modern Healthcare,  Nov. 28, 2015,

[7] Ibid.