Bloomberg: How well do mental health apps protect patient privacy?

Mental health apps are increasingly gathering user data to improve functionality, but some experts are concerned the data mining techniques may infringe on patient privacy, reports Bloomberg.

Two up-and-coming mobile apps — Mindstrong, which aims to improve mental health diagnosis and management by analyzing users' smartphone behavior, and Woebot, a telepsychiatry chatbot enabled by Facebook Messenger — are cautiously welcomed by clinicians and privacy experts.

These apps might detect symptoms earlier or help to effectively coach individuals with anxiety or depression. However, some concerns are tied to stigma surrounding mental health. If the information in these types of technologies gets out, it might affect a user's insurance coverage or chances of landing a job, according to Bloomberg.

To address these concerns, the companies say they build their brands with complete trust. Mindstrong avoids using behavioral data to sell its products and Woebot leadership promises the app won't sell customer information. Woebot's employees can also only view anonymous responses to the chatbot, although the company can't speak for its platform, Facebook Messenger. 

Facebook collects information when users "message or communicate with others" to help improve its services, a spokeswoman told Bloomberg. The spokeswoman specified Facebook does not " read the content of messages between people or people and business."

Despite these privacy concerns, investors and consumers still appear interested. Mindstrong raised $14 million in series A funding and recently struck deals with UnitedHealth Group and Blackthorn Therapeutics, while Woebot already has paying customers.

More articles on telehealth: 

HIMSS issues 'call to action' to support telehealth act

Teladoc completes $440M acquisition of Best Doctors

NewYork-Presbyterian unveils pediatric urgent care on NYP OnDemand

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