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In the inaugural episode of Sheppard Mullin’s Health-e Law podcast, renowned expert Dr. Laura Tully, Vice President of Clinical Services at ChatOwl, discussed emerging issues for health-tech’s data collection and use activities with Sheppard Mullin’s Digital Health Team co-chairs, Sara Shanti and Phil Kim.

In the episode, “In Tech We Trust? The Case for Transparency”, Dr. Tully reiterated the importance of transparently communicating how health-tech platforms use data collected from users. She noted that such data could be collected in a variety of ways, such as through chatbots, questionnaires, or even communications with human providers. Dr. Tully emphasized that consumers, particularly those in the behavioral health care space, are concerned not just about how their personal information is being protected, but also about how it is being used. Those concerns can impact not only the amount of information users are willing to share, but also the quality of that information.

Dr. Tully emphasized that transparency can be a potential solution to address user concerns. Specifically, she observed that terms on data collection and use are often buried in lengthy policies or end-user license agreements, which are ordinarily written in legalese and can be difficult for users to understand. Such practices make it challenging for a consumer to really understand what is happening with their data. In turn, adding transparency can promote user trust with a particular product, which is critical in the behavioral health care space where continued patient engagement has been a historical challenge.[1]

In fact, studies into data sharing preferences among individuals identified encouraging results. In particular, a study[2] conducted at the University of California, Davis, asked a focus group about their views on data use and sharing, a majority of whom expressed a willingness to share data in order to improve treatment, services, and outcomes. In contrast, the focus group expressed disapproval of data use for commercial purposes. The study also evidenced a desire by users to exercise some measure of control over when and how their data was being shared, signifying a potential need for the industry to offer additional transparency on data collection and use.

Dr. Tully emphasized that adoption of transparent data practices could likely increase user trust, subsequently fostering better engagement with health-tech products. As data collection is vital for the continuous improvement of products, establishing trust from the beginning of the user journey – through transparency – could contribute towards improved products and hopefully increased patient engagement.

The Bottom Line

In a data hungry world, it can be impactful for companies to address user needs and preferences. By making data policies more transparent and understandable, health-tech companies could raise user trust, thereby increasing engagement and improving the quality of the data collected. Ultimately, striking a balance between privacy and data collection is no easy task, but it is a necessary endeavor to innovate and enhance healthcare outcomes and services.

To listen to the full episode, click here.


[1] Dr. Tully cited a study led by Amit Baumel and John Kane, which involved a large scoping review of mental health applications which were available in 2019. The study indicated that roughly 10% of users continued use of a particular application after seven (7) days. The study, Objective User Engagement with Mental Health Apps: Systematic Search and Panel-Based Usage Analysis, is accessible here.

[2] The study, Incorporating Community Partner Perspectives on eHealth Technology Data Sharing Practices for the California Early Psychosis Intervention Network: Qualitative Focus Group Study with a User-Centered Design Approach, is available here.