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Amazon-Linked Health App Sparks Privacy Concerns

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An Amazon-linked healthcare app is raising some privacy concerns.

According to the Wall Street Journal, doctors can direct their patients to buy blood-pressure cuffs, slings and other supplies using the app that is embedded in the patient’s private medical record.

The app, developed by Xealth Inc., allows doctors to choose which supplies to recommend to patients and then email them a list. The email also directs the patient to a website with photos of the products, descriptions and links so they can purchase them on the Amazon eCommerce site.

While Xealth says the app doesn’t share information from a patient’s medical records or about the doctor with Amazon, privacy experts are concerned that patients could still unknowingly share personal and sensitive health information with the eCommerce site.

“We do not want companies to know intimate knowledge about us as they can manipulate us or use it when it is not in our interest,” said Kirsten Martin, a George Washington University associate professor who studies privacy and technology.

For example, if Amazon sees that a consumer viewed blood-pressure cuffs recommended by a doctor, it could determine that the shopper has high blood pressure, and as a result, use the information to send specific ads to the patient.

But Xealth chief executive Mike McSherry said he isn’t aware of Amazon targeting ads to customers who have used the company’s app.

Amazon has been trying to get a foothold in the healthcare industry. Just this week it was reported that Amazon is selling software geared toward “mining” patient medical records. Through machine learning, Amazon Comprehend Medical uses natural language processing to decode writing found in medical practitioners’ notes, which are notoriously sloppy. Amazon claims that its software is “on par or better than other published efforts” in extracting data.

The eCommerce giant has also partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan on data-driven improvement of healthcare, and has also teamed up with medical supplier Arcadia to assist in the monitoring of diabetes.

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