Modern health care is largely based on the reliable and accurate gathering of patient information. By collecting and analyzing data over a period of time, health care providers can gain a deeper understanding of their patients and make better decisions. New technology has facilitated patients' participation in their own health care in this respect. However, the safeguarding of this information has raised concerns about patient privacy and rights.
Personal health monitoring involves gathering physiological data and evaluating it by comparing it to a set of standard indicators. Digital technology has made this process much more efficient, both for individuals and in medical settings. New mobile applications, or “apps,” allow people to monitor different aspects of their health. A growing awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle has fueled the creation of new devices and applications (apps) for tracking exercise, nutrition, and other health indicators. Some of these devices are affordable and even free. However, concerns have been raised about patient privacy rights and data accuracy and retention.
Ever more health-tracking devices are produced and purchased each year. A growing number of these are wearable tracking devices, such as fitness bands. Some companies participate in programs that make such tracking devices available to employees who wish to monitor their activity or fitness levels. These programs often provide incentives for employees to participate, such as prizes or cash rewards.
Other health-monitoring systems include apps that can be downloaded onto mobile devices. Advocates say that health apps encourage self-care and empower users by involving them more with their own health. Health care providers have become more supportive of quality wearable tracking devices because they reduce the need for appointments and make necessary appointments more efficient. In some cases, these devices can be connected to other forms of monitoring technology, providing useful data to medical personnel.
Multimodal monitoring is the monitoring of several physical indicators at once. This typically involves connecting different monitoring tools to a central display. A growing number of health care providers are exploring the possible benefits of multimodal self-monitoring devices, particularly for chronic conditions. These systems may range from apps to remote monitoring and increasingly include biometrics. Developers are creating devices that would connect with others in order to provide greater data granularity.
However, such devices require a greater level of patient involvement than regular trackers. Multimodal monitoring usually requires the support of technicians to perform complex tasks such as temporal synchronization. The accuracy of the results can be skewed by even tiny differences in timekeeping.
The benefits of innovative methods of self-monitoring are undeniable. Devices have been developed that can warn of an impending heart attack or the possibility of an asthma event. However, some health experts are concerned that self-monitoring devices may also pose grave risks. Some argue that data integrity may be compromised. Others are concerned about privacy issues, such as who has access to the information collected and how it will be used. Mental health experts have argued that excessive monitoring may even be harmful, as it tends to increase anxiety and self-centeredness. Finally, some are worried because there is very little government regulation of these devices, particularly the noninvasive type.
—Trudy Mercadal, PhD
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