Apple HealthKit data-sharing plans must overcome HIPAA privacy regs


Apple ($AAPL) has discussed collaboration with several prominent healthcare players as it prepares to roll out its HealthKit service, which is anticipated to be an element of the iPhone 6 that's planned for this fall. The players include Mount Sinai Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and electronic health records company Allscripts, according to Reuters.

Many companies are interested in using the HealthKit apps to centralize and integrate various data from various software, apps and medical devices into the delivery of treatment. "Apple is going into this space with a data play," Forrester Research's healthcare analyst Skip Snow told Reuters, "They want to be a hub of health data." 

Apple is proving to be a disruptive force not just to competitors, but regulators as well. For example, plans to share HealthKit data must face the patient privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Congress is worried about privacy concerns as well. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) released an Aug. 10 statement "urging the Federal Trade Commission to push for fitness device and app companies to provide a clear and obvious opportunity to 'opt-out' before any personal health data is provided to third parties," because the third parties, such as insurance companies and employers, "could discriminate against the user based on that sensitive and private health information."

"If companies of fitness devices have the ability to sell personal health data to insurers, employers and others, users should be alerted and given the opportunity to decline. The FTC should require fitness devices and app companies to adopt new privacy measures that will help conceal the identity of individuals and develop policies to protect consumer information in the event of a security breach," Schumer said in the statement. 

The senator singled out Fitbit's smart bracelets as a product that can create a "privacy nightmare." But given Apple's larger ambitions and stature, it is virtually guaranteed to be a sweet and juicy target for similar attacks from politicians (and possibly lawyers) in the future.

- read the Reuters article
- here's the Schumer release

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