Best Practices to Keep your Smartphone Health Data Secure

More and more patients are using smartphone-based tools to manage their health.  The smartphone is an excellent tool for tracking and managing personal health and sharing that information with their doctor.  With an estimated 30 percent of 7.4 billion mobile phone subscribers in 2015 likely to use a phone-based wellness application (BCG/Telenor Mobile Health Report), billions of people are going to be storing personal health information on their phone.  It is essential that individuals follow basic mobile security best practices in order for this technology to live up to its full potential in a safe and secure manner.

Some best practices are:

1.  Utilize passcode protection.

Your phone will come with a basic security feature that locks your screen behind a passcode.  Turn this feature on and use it as a first line of defense.

For iPhone users ⇒ Settings/General/Passcode Lock
For Android users ⇒ menu button, Settings>Security>Screen lock

2.  Record your phone’s unique identifier and store it in a safe place. 

The Device ID is unique to your handheld device and is used by your carrier to identify your device and connect it to their cellular network.  It is not the serial number of your phone, it is called the "IMEI number," the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity.  You can then used this number to identify your lost or stolen device.  There are a number of databases such as that help owners find their lost equipment.

For iPhone users:

Tap Settings > General > About  See a view of your serial number, IMEI/MEID, and ICCID. The screen shown is from an iPhone, but the information is also available on iPad and iPod touch.

For Android users:

Tap the Android Menu Key > Settings > About Phone > Status  Scroll down to find a view of your IMEI and serial number. The screen shown is from a Google Nexus 4 phone but should be similar on other Android devices. 


I like to take a screen shot of this page and upload the picture to a secure cloud-based file storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox for easy access and future reference using any web-enabled tool.

3.  Use applications that provide secure data storage for easy retrieval in the event you replace your phone.

Before you begin using a new app, read its privacy policy to insure that your data is kept private.  Other issues to consider:

  • What information is collected and how is it used?
  • What data is collected automatically?
  • Does the device collect precise, real-time location data?
  • Does the app use geo-targeting and for what purposes?
  • Do third parties have access to the information collected by the app?
  • Is there an opt-out feature?

If there is no privacy policy available, choose a different application provider.

4.  Set up easy to see “If Found” contact information on your locked screen.

For the iPhone:

The iPhone does not have this capability built in but there is a simple work-around you can easily use.  Using the Notes app, create an “if found, contact me at:” note and take a screen-shot of it.  Then go to Settings => Brightness & Wallpaper and select the photo from your camera roll, and select “Set Lock Screen.”

and the finished product:

For Android:

Android users can find free apps on the Android Market like Contact Owner that set up a "if found, contact me" page on the front screen:


5.  Use a “find my phone” application that includes the ability to remotely erase all of your personal data from the phone in the event it is at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

For iPhone:

Included with the IOS5 iCloud service is Find my iPhone, a service that can locate, set off a loud alarm on your phone, and, if you are unable to locate your phone, it will enable you to wipe all of your data off of the lost device, protecting your privacy.

Features include:

  • Locate your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac on a map

Display a custom message on the screen

  • Play a sound for two minutes at full volume (even if your device is set to silent)

  • Remotely lock your device

  • Remotely wipe your device to erase your personal data
  • Lost Mode (iOS 6 or later)
  • Driving directions to device location (iOS 6 or later)
  • Battery charge indicator

For Android:

Download an app from the Android Market like “Where’s My Droid.” 

This $3.99 application offers the following features:

  • Find phone by making it ring/vibrate
  • Find phone using GPS location
  • Text your attention word
  • Passcode protection to prevent unauthorized app changes
  • Notification of changed SIM card or phone number
  • Stealth Mode hides incoming text with attention word
  • Take pictures remotely with the device’s camera
  • Remotely lock device
  • Remotely wipe SD card
  • Remotely wipe phone data
  • Use a landline to activate the app
  • Customizable ringtone when lost

Following these best practices can help keep the personal health information you collect and store on your smartphone safe and secure.