How SUD Treatment Providers Can Ensure Privacy, Data Security from Tech Partners

Technology is becoming an increasingly important part of behavioral health treatment, especially amid the coronavirus. In fact, telehealth was used more for mental health conditions than any other type of diagnosis in May, according to a report from FAIR Health.

And while technology presents a lot of opportunities to expand behavioral health access and improve overall treatment, it also comes with risks, namely on the privacy front.

Earlier this year, a number of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment apps came under fire when an investigation found they were sharing sensitive patient data with third parties.


The report came from ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab and was compiled in conjunction with the Opioid Policy Institute and the Defensive Lab Agency. It looked at the data and security practices of 10 opioid treatment apps, which included Bicycle Health, Boulder Care, Confidant Health. DynamiCare Health, Kaden Health, Loosid, Pear Reset-O, PursueCare, Sober Grid and Workit Health.

The report found that most of those apps accessed unique identifiers from patients’ devices and, in some cases, shared that information with third-parties.

That information could “be used to build a fingerprint on a specific smartphone and its owner, statistically inferring their identity,” ExpressVPN wrote in it’s analysis of the report. That’s a problem because confidentiality concerns frequently keep people with SUD from seeking treatment.


“We were stunned by that report,” Hans Morefield, CEO of CHESS Health, told Behavioral Health Business.

CHESS Health is a digital health company focused on SUD management. It works with SUD treatment providers to help patients sustain recovery, giving their patients and alumni access to an app where they can receive after-hours support. Plus, it also gives providers the ability to create digital connections with referral sources and partner organizations to make for seamless care transitions and comprehensive treatment.

While the results of ExpressVPN’s investigation were hardly welcome news to SUD treatment providers, Morefield believes they do have a silver lining.

“I think the report is helping providers know what questions to ask of the organizations that they’re considering working with,” he said.

When choosing a tech company partner, Morefield said SUD treatment providers should ask about data privacy and security policies, as well as whether the company’s application is HITRUST certified. Additionally, providers should know who owns patient data logged into the app, as well as whether that data is being commingled with other providers’ or sold to third parties.

Asking those questions is vital, he said, as supplemental technology is only going to become more common in SUD treatment.

“Individuals need more than just a couple of hours a week,” Morefield said. :They need more than one-to-one therapy, group counseling and medication. That’s not enough for most people to sustain their recovery. They need additional support.”

And technology provides for that support.

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