Apple debuts Health app feature that stores your medical records

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Apple debuts Health app feature that stores your medical records
Image Credit: Apple.com
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If you’ve had any of the late-model iPhones, you’ve probably noticed the Health app among the stock applications that come with your device. Its full functionality is just now coming into focus as Apple announced Wednesday that it has updated the app’s Health Records section to display consumers’ available medical data.

Apple is framing the feature as a one-stop shop that can help medical providers quickly and easily see their patients’ allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results and other vitals. People will also get notifications when their data is updated.

“Our goal is to help consumers live a better day,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO, said in a written statement. “We’ve worked closely with the health community to create an experience everyone has wanted for years — to view medical records easily and securely right on your iPhone. By empowering customers to see their overall health, we hope to help consumers better understand their health and help them lead healthier lives.”

Apple just added access to medical records via iPhone

Once you open the app, it prompts you to fill out a “Medical ID,” which it says “provides medical information about you that may be important in an emergency, like allergies and medical conditions.”

Apple said that its iOS 11.3 update this spring will fully integrate hospitals and clinics into the fold, allowing them the ability to send electronic notifications to patients and access their data.

Twelve U.S. hospitals have signed up to participate in Apple’s foray into health care, which is in many ways the holy grail of Big Tech’s data possibilities. Here are the institutions on board so far:

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine – Baltimore, Maryland
  • Cedars-Sinai – Los Angeles, California
  • Penn Medicine – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Geisinger Health System – Danville, Pennsylvania
  • UC San Diego Health – San Diego, California
  • UNC Health Care – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Rush University Medical Center – Chicago, Illinois
  • Dignity Health – Arizona, California and Nevada
  • Ochsner Health System – Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
  • MedStar Health –  Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
  • OhioHealth – Columbus, Ohio
  • Cerner Healthe Clinic – Kansas City, Missouri

The Cupertino, California-based company also launched a health care provider microsite designed to provide resources for researchers such as the ability to create custom apps and innovate on Apple’s open source framework.

Apple’s big news, of course, does not come without privacy concerns. The whole notion of medical records being stored in the cloud has been fraught with security issues for some time now. A 2016 survey from cybersecurity firm Arxan found that eight out of 10 health apps were open to HIPAA violations and hacking.

The issue was also prominently highlighted in an American Bar Association op-ed, which surmised, “The application of laws like HIPAA to the Apple Watch and its related apps is not clear. One of the major potential privacy concerns is that current health care privacy laws, like HIPAA, do not address health care data stored on a consumers’ own personal device.”

How secure will the new Health Records data be on your iPhone?

Evidently, Apple feels that iPhone users have enough security because although the company expects you to go ahead and add a treasure trove of your most sensitive info about your well-being onto their platform, there are no apparent additional cybersecurity safeguards attached to the Health app.

In fact, in a press release about the product, Apple says, “Health Records data is encrypted and protected with the user’s iPhone passcode.” In other words, same as it ever was. And if your smartphone is not already password-protected, the company seems to be hinting that it needs to be.

How to safeguard your personal info on electronic devices

Now matter how safe tech companies say your data is in their hands, sooner or later we find out that hackers have somehow breached their defenses. With that in mind, here are some best practices to keep in mind when it comes to protecting your data online.

  • Make your passwords difficult to guess: If you’re one of those “password” is the password people, then you’re just asking to be hacked. Here’s why you should make your passwords hard to guess and as long as possible: Hackers have high-tech and indefatigable programs that can figure out your passwords if they’re too simple.
  • Don’t tell all on social media: It’s amazing how people will be super-careful when divulging their personal information in person, but blab very intimate stuff about themselves on Facebook, Twitter on Instagram. Also, there are tons of social media scams out there so be cautious about accepting invites from people you don’t know.
  • Be careful when using public Wi-Fi: Coffee shops may offer free connections to get online, but you should really think about accessing sensitive information on wide-open networks. That’s because, by nature of not being password-protected, they are more susceptible to hacking.  There’s also the danger of fake hotspots that look like legitamate public Wi-Fi.

Money expert Clark Howard recommends that we be judicious about how we use public wireless connections. “Never do online banking on public Wi-Fi,” he says in an online video. “Never sign into your email account at public Wi-Fi. Because public Wi-Fi flat out is not secure. Whenever you’re going to use public Wi-Fi, use it to do simple web surfing.”

RELATED: How I learned to quit worrying and embrace Apple Pay

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer.  You can reach Craig at craig@clark.com
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