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To fight COVID-19, your iPhone will share medical info during emergency calls

If you haven’t filled out the Health app’s Medical ID feature, there’s no better time.

To fight COVID-19, your iPhone will share medical info during emergency calls
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

Apple is adding a new “Share Medical ID During Emergency Calls” feature that will send along your health information with any SOS calls you make with your iPhone or Apple Watch. An SOS call is a feature on iPhone and Apple Watch that allows users to call for emergency help with one screen swipe if they are unable to dial 911.

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The company says the new feature, which will become available “in the coming weeks,” is meant to provide further assistance to emergency first responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s a reality that some people who contract COVID-19 are unable to communicate when they are picked up by an ambulance. Some are struggling to breathe. So when they hit the SOS button on their iPhone or Apple Watch, first responders will have some vital information to go on as they work to sustain the patient. Information might include facts such as medical conditions, allergies, and medications. For instance, whether or not a person has an underlying heart condition can affect the decision of what drug therapies are used in treatment.

The medical information is drawn from the user’s Medical ID on their device. Medical ID provides a secure spot inside the Health app where users can bank their vital medical information. First responders can also access the information from the user’s lock screen without needing a passcode.

If users opt in to share Medical ID information via the new feature, Apple uses their location to check if the Enhanced Emergency Data service is supported in their area. If so, the data is shared securely with emergency services, Apple says. The connection to local emergency centers comes via RapidSOS, which connects mobile devices to emergency infrastructure.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
The feature will be distributed to users as part of the iOS 13.5 beta. The feature will also work with the Apple Watch’s fall detection feature, which is available for Apple Watch Series 4 and later.

If you’ve yet to fill out your Medical ID, you can find a step-by-step guide here.

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The new Share Medical ID feature is the latest example of Apple attempting to bring its technology to bear in the response to the coronavirus. The company also is collaborating with Google on a phone-based approach to tracking—and then interrupting—the spread of the virus.

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About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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