Clarity needed on smartphone health

Dr Juanita Fernando

Dr Juanita Fernando

A health academic has urged the Australian government to allow physicians to take advantage of medical applications on smart phones and tablets by closing gaps in laws governing their use.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Juanita Fernando of Monash University’s Mobile Health Research Group, argued the lack of legal certainty around the use of clinical software on personal mobile devices (PMDs) exposed health professionals to risk.  

Dr Fernando said programs such as iStethoscope, Flipboard, Skype or MedCalc had patient care benefits.

“A recent survey by the World Health Organisation showed that applications like these can assist in a variety of ways, including allowing doctors to easily access existing health support services even when in geographically remote areas with a lack of infrastructure,” Dr Fernando said.  

However, Dr Fernando said the legal vacuum around smart phone and tablet use by medical professionals limited uptake. The main risks in the unregulated environment were ensuring data is secure so that the information accessed is accurate.

“The current Australian legislation does not address security risks like the transmission of user log-ins, and monitoring of activity on PMDs,” Dr Fernando said.

“Further, clinical software applications, which are increasing in popularity, can over-ride the protective settings on smart phones and tablets, affecting both the reliability and security of medical information accessed on PMDs.” 

Dr Fernando said the risk of legal repercussions meant health professionals and organisations should be cautious in using the software, despite the potential benefits to patients.

“Although there hasn’t been any litigation in Australia as yet, it makes sense to regulate now and allow clinicians to use this technology with confidence, rather than waiting for the courts to decide,” Dr Fernando said.

“Overseas governments have recognised the risk and are beginning to take action and we should follow suit.”