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How, Why, and Why Not to Use the iPhone Medical ID

Posted by Jim Tanous on April 29, 2015
iphone medical id

Apple’s Health app lets users and third party apps collect and track health related data, but it also contains an important feature called Medical ID. Many of us are already familiar with the recommended “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) practice of including important contact information on your phone that can be used to contact family in the event of an emergency. Apple’s iPhone Medical ID is an enhanced version of ICE that not only provides emergency contact information, but can also inform first responders and medical personnel of important health information such as your medications, medical conditions, and allergies. Here’s how to set up Medical ID on your iPhone.
The iPhone Medical ID is configured via the Health app, which was introduced as part of iOS 8, so you’ll need to be running at least iOS 8 to take advantage of this feature. To get started, launch the Health app and tap the Medical ID icon located at the bottom-right of screen.
The app automatically detects and populates your own information based on your “Me” contact card in iOS contacts, but it will likely be empty by default, with just your name and birthdate, if you’ve already provided that information in the Contacts app. To add additional information, tap Edit in the top-right corner.
iphone medical id setup
Here, you can change or update your name, photo, and birthdate (if necessary) and start adding important medical information. Fields are available to list any medical conditions, allergies, and current medications, along with a blank field for general medical notes, such as your preferred hospital or doctor, or any religious requests.
Further down, you can add multiple emergency contacts. One limitation of the iPhone Medical ID is that emergency contacts can only be drawn from your existing iPhone contacts, so you’ll need to add or update contact information for your parents, spouse, siblings, and physicians ahead of time. There’s currently no way to add an emergency contact only without also having that contact in your standard iPhone Contacts list. As you select contacts, the iPhone Medical ID app will ask you to identify their relationship to you. If you’d rather not classify a contact as parent, friend, partner, etc., you can choose either “other” or simply “emergency” as the relationship field.
Below the emergency contacts section, you’ll also find fields for blood type, height, weight, and your organ donor preference. When you’re done adding information, just tap Done at the top of the screen to save your changes.

How to Access the iPhone Medical ID

So you’ve got your important medical information and emergency contacts stored in your iPhone’s Medical ID. Now, how does someone access it in the event of an emergency?
If your iPhone doesn’t have a lock passcode (not recommended), a first responder or good samaritan can access your Medical ID from the Health app. For the rest of us who wisely use passcodes or Touch ID to secure our iPhones, the Medical ID can be accessed from the lock screen.
iphone medical id
Just tap Emergency on the bottom-left of the iPhone lock screen, which allows those without your passcode to make an emergency phone call. Then, tap Medical ID to bring up a screen showing the information you entered previously. Those accessing your Medical ID can tap on any of your emergency contacts to call them directly.

Privacy Concerns & Efficacy

The iPhone Medical ID is a great idea for many iPhone owners, and it may even save your life, but there are some important privacy concerns to consider before using it. While Apple doesn’t share any information you enter into the Medical ID profile with third party apps, anyone who has physical access to your iPhone can easily see it. The whole idea of Medical ID is to make the information quick and easy to find for those helping you in an emergency, but that means it’s also quick and easy to find for those with less honorable intent.

first responders emts

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock


Personal and sensitive medical information, such as medical conditions and medications, will be wide open to nosy coworkers, prying family members, or just about anyone who gets physical access to your iPhone for 15 seconds. In addition, the phone numbers and names of your emergency contacts, and their relationship to you, will also be viewable, which introduces identity theft or phishing concerns.
You’ll therefore need to weigh the risks and benefits of having this information easily accessible via your iPhone. If you know you’ll be in a situation where it’s likely that someone else could access your iPhone, you can always temporarily disable the Medical ID by navigating back to the Health app, tapping Edit and then disabling the Show When Locked option. Note, however, that you need to quit the Health app after making this change in order to hide the Medical ID button from the Emergency Call lock screen. And if you ever want to remove your iPhone Medical ID entirely, you’ll find a Delete Medical ID button at the bottom of the Edit screen.
Beyond privacy concerns, there’s also the question of efficacy. Although it’s one of the most popular smart phones in the world, not everyone has an iPhone and not all first responders, doctors, or good samaritans will know how to find your Medical ID. Therefore, while having an iPhone Medical ID is a good backup, you may also want to also use other more traditional methods to alert first responders to critical medical information, such as a bracelet, or card in your wallet or purse.
If your iPhone isn’t able to run iOS 8, or if you have another brand of smartphone, consider adding ICE contacts to your phone’s “favorites” list, or use a lock screen wallpaper image to display your important medical info.

8 thoughts on “How, Why, and Why Not to Use the iPhone Medical ID”

Debbie says:
How do I add a second health ID in my iPhone for my handicapped daughter?
I would like this one to be accessible with lock screen on
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Amy Winters says:
Thank you for pointing out that there is a medical ID feature on most phones that if you are in an accident can help emergency services get a hold of your emergency contacts and your medical information. It’s crazy that technology has come so far that you can add all of your emergency information on your phone and it can be accessible to EMTs that would know where to look for the information. I assume that there could be more customizable phone lock screen ID apps in the future that can store even more information.
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Sandra says:
can someon with my info st up a medical ID and get on my phone thyme used it to hack my phone and I can’t delete it. Help!
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Steve Monroe says:
As a person who has a very specific medical condition I was amazed that advertisements appear targeting me for a specific condition. I have not used safari or my phone to research this condition so some app is reading my medical info and targeting me with ads specific to this condition. If it is on your phone any application you install can read this information. Most of their user agreements state this is to provide better customer response, but it is just another way to steal info and target you.
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Jen says:
People are so afraid of disclosing personal information in these things, yet post every little thing on Facebook or other social media. This could save your life. The problem is a lot of people don’t know this exist. I wonder if health care providers, especially emergency ones, use this. So I wouldn’t worry too much about this since most people don’t know. And the ones that have heard of it forget about it. People who want to steal identities don’t need your iphone to do it. I’ve heard of cases where they have put together pieces of broken paper from the trash to get information. Or they get into schools to get the info from student records. If you suffer from serious medical conditions or get serious allergic reactions from certain madications, you should consider using the ID. Or at least your doctor’s info so they can contact him/her to get this information. That way you don’t have to put too much info, just your doctor’s phone number.
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Stephen Cobb says:
Nice article Jim, and the only one that I have found which actually mentions the risks of using this feature (snooping, over-sharing, and the fact your phone is not attached to you like an medical ID bracelet).
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Deborah says:
I was shocked to discover that my medic alert bracelet information was already loaded in this app. Who gave Medic Alert permission to share this info with Apple? Should this concern me?
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Trent Turner says:
Thank you for your article. Very useful and exactly what I was looking for.
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