Use of mHealth can reduce the impact of demographic change

Tackling privacy and security issues is key to empowering old people to part manage their own health and wellbeing, says Anne-Sophie Parent.

By Anne-Sophie Parent

04 May 2015

A question certain to be raised at this year's eHealth week is whether mobile health can provide an answer to the increasing needs of Europe's ageing population.

The event, held in Riga, is set to focus on the main conclusions from the European commission's public consultation on mobile health, or mHealth as some call it. 

eHealth is a generic term covering all ICT-enabled health services and devices that are used by health professionals, carers, funders and patients. 


mHealth covers all initiatives that seek to enhance the health and wellbeing of individual patients through the use of mobile communication devices, such as mobile phones, tablet computers, patient monitoring devices and other wireless devices, and are targeted at individual citizens and patients.

AGE welcomes the developments in mHealth which could help reduce costs for social protection systems and patients alike by empowering older people to partly manage their own health and wellbeing, while being more proactive in terms of health promotion and disease prevention. 

However, for mHealth to reach its full potential there are key issues which must be tackled. In addition to the lack of accessibility of many mTools - and their price which can deter many older people, in particular the very old, from using them - issues around privacy and security, safety and transparency require strong action to overcome older people's reluctance and concerns about mHealth applications.

Data protection is crucial for older people using new technologies, especially when it comes to sensitive areas such as health. Although personal data are primarily used for the purpose of improving patient welfare, under some restricted circumstances data may be used for purposes other than the wellbeing of individual patients. 

Such circumstances require informed and documented consent but it is not always clear to older people how their data will be used, whether their data will be stored safely, who may have access to this information now and in the future and for what purpose.

Under EU law everyone has the right to protection of their personal data, but is this protection always guaranteed in practice? Looking at recent cyberattacks on highly protected databases, there are questions over whether all threats are under control. There is an obvious need for the EU to help member states improve their capacity to protect health data given the increasing deployment of mHealth across the EU.

Having a clear data protection legal framework that can be applied and integrated into mHealth solutions is vital for facilitating its implementation and avoiding grey areas.

Further to ensuring an adequate legal and technical framework for protecting health data, it is also important to raise awareness among users about the potential impact of using mHealth solutions. 

Citizens and patients need a good understanding of privacy issues, including the right to be forgotten. It also means that data protection should be built in all mHealth applications from their inception to ensure they adopt the correct approach.

Finally, it is of the utmost importance for developers to adopt a co-creation approach, for example, involving older people in a continuous way from inception to the end of the development process to ensure the relevance of mHealth applications to those who are expected to use them.


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