Telemedicine in retail setting poses privacy concerns

As Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and other retailers expand their footprints in healthcare, more steps must be taken to ensure the security and privacy of patient information, telehealth experts warn in the December issue of Health Affairs.

Researchers from UC Davis School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School outlined several policies they say must be "re-evaluated and updated to offer the appropriate guidance."

"Retail outlets using telehealth have unique advantages and opportunities for delivering convenient care to consumers," said Keisuke Nakagawa, MD, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC Davis Health. "But it is important to monitor developments and consolidations in the health care market to ensure our policies are well-designed, relevant and anticipate future applications of telehealth."

Telehealth relies on innovative technologies like smartphones, wireless internet and smart-home devices to improve access and collect and store patient data. That data could be delivered to a commercial retailer engaging in a telehealth program, which raises concerns about the lack of policies on merging protected health information with non-PHI data, said Peter Yellowlees, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC Davis Health.

"Retail outlets have access to a wealth of consumer data, and health care organizations have access to medical data," Dr. Yellowlees said. "While some convergence is already happening through data brokers selling consumer data to health care organizations, the precision, granularity and flexibility to analyze the data could be much more significant when retail organizations have access to both health care and retail-data sources directly."

To access the complete report, click here.

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