Personal medical records like immunizations and cancer results are increasingly kept on smartphone apps, but experts say there are privacy issues to consider.

Paper cards are used to record vaccination information required by schools and public health departments.

3 privacy tips

  • Check how securely your information will be stored and encrypted.
  • Make sure both your mobile device and the app itself are password-protected.
  • Read the fine print: how can you recover data if the app-maker disappears?

Lesley Keenan of Toronto said she often forgot to bring her daughter's card with them to the doctor's office, so it was out-of-date. Keenan asked her former neighbour, public health policy researcher Dr. Kumanan Wilson, why there isn't a better way.

In response, Wilson developed a virtual immunization card to track family's vaccinations on iPhones and iPads. The ImmunizeON app will also remind you about vaccination appointments and send alerts about local outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.

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The virtual immunization card can help families keep track of their vaccinations. (CBC)

"This is a way I think we need to envision our health-care system moving forward," said Wilson, a physician and scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

More than 17,000 health-care apps are available to allow you to track everything from glucose levels to the size of your moles.

Dr. Wendy Graham, a Toronto doctor, started Mihealth, a personalized web portal for patients to access their health data. Users can also store and display their information on their smartphone.

"It will be able to pull not only your test results, but important information such as your echocardiogram, your cancer care consult — large pieces of information that you'd always want to carry with you."

Secure storage 

Apps that store personal data on the device itself can be risky if it's stolen or hacked, technology expert Don Tapscott warns.

"You want your data stored in the cloud where it can be secure and where it can be safe," Tapscott says.

If the information is stored in the cloud — a virtual storage service such as those offered by Apple and Amazon — then if the device is lost, it's harder for someone to access your personal information.

Before signing up for any medical app, Tapscott suggests:

  • Check how securely your information will be stored and encrypted.
  • Make sure both your mobile device and the app itself are password-protected.
  • Read the fine print to check how you can recover your data if the company goes out of business.

Wilson said his team will talk to experts in data encryption and privacy to protect against concerns. They also hope to develop the app for Android and BlackBerry phones and to roll it out for residents of other provinces.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber