Period tracking app Flo releases anonymous mode and more digital health briefs
Period tracking app Flo released its previously announced anonymous mode, which the company said will allow users to access the app without associating their name, email address and technical identifiers with their health data.
Flo partnered with security firm Cloudflare to build the new feature and released a white paper detailing its technical specifications. Anonymous mode has been localized into 20 languages, and it’s currently available for iOS users. Flo said Android support will be added in October.
“Women’s health information shouldn’t be a liability,” Cath Everett, VP of product and content at Flo, said in a statement. “Every day, our users turn to Flo to gain personal insights about their bodies. Now, more than ever, women deserve to access, track and gain insight into their personal health information without fearing government prosecution. We hope this milestone will set an example for the industry and inspire companies to raise the bar when it comes to privacy and security principles.”
Flo first announced plans to add an anonymous mode shortly after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Privacy experts raised concerns that the data contained in women’s health apps could be used to build a case against users in states where abortion is now illegal. Others have argued different types of data are more likely to point to illegal abortions.
Still, reports and studies have noted many popular period tracking apps have poor privacy and data sharing standards. The U.K.-based Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps found most popular apps share data with third parties, and many embed user consent information within the terms and conditions.
Brentwood, Tennessee-based LifePoint Health announced a partnership with Google Cloud to use its Healthcare Data Engine to aggregate and analyze patient information.
Google Cloud’s HDE pulls and organizes data from medical records, clinical trials and research data. The health system said using the tool will give providers a more holistic view of patients’ health data, along with offering analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities. LifePoint will also use HDE to build new digital health programs and care models as well as integrate third-party tools.
“LifePoint Health is fundamentally changing how healthcare is delivered at the community level,” Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, said in a statement. “Bringing data together from hundreds of sources, and applying AI and machine learning to it will unlock the power of data to make real-time decisions — whether it is around resource utilization, identifying high-risk patients, reducing physician burnout, or other critical needs.”
The National Institutes of Health announced this week it will invest $130 million over four years, as long as the funds are available, to expand the use of artificial intelligence in biomedical and behavioral research.
The NIH Common Fund’s Bridge to Artificial Intelligence (Bridge2AI) program aims to build “flagship” datasets that are ethically sourced and trustworthy as well as determine best practices for the emerging technology. It will also produce data types that researchers can use in their work, like voice and other markers that could signal potential health problems.
Although AI use has been expanding in the life science and healthcare spaces, the NIH said its adoption has been slowed because biomedical and behavioral datasets are often incomplete and don’t contain information about data type or collection conditions. The agency notes this can lead to bias, which experts say can compound existing health inequities.
“Generating high-quality ethically sourced datasets is crucial for enabling the use of next-generation AI technologies that transform how we do research,” Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, who is currently performing the duties of the director of NIH, said in a statement. “The solutions to long-standing challenges in human health are at our fingertips, and now is the time to connect researchers and AI technologies to tackle our most difficult research questions and ultimately help improve human health.”