Vaccine Record on Phone

Vaccination record on old yellow form.
Phones are replacing paper as the receipt for vaccines.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am hoping to get the Covid vaccine soon along with other members of my family. I heard that when we get it we will need to keep a receipt for it on our phones. I have not done this before and am wondering if this is so necessary. Janine, TIburon

Dear Janine: The Covid virus has been a real shot in the arm (pun intended) for smartphones. Initially, contact tracing apps were rolled out for phones with a mix of opt-in, opt-out functionality.  Next, smartphones became a vital part of getting tested. Most of us have to sign up for a Covid test, reserve a spot, and learn the results through a combination of text, email, and web site. So, it’s not a surprise that the most important and anticipated element, the vaccine, is also intertwined with our phones. 

Phones Have Background!

Some background: Putting health records on phones is not entirely new but since the beginning of Covid, many firms  have vied to be first to issue or manage digital health credentials. Among the firms are IBM, a Swiss non-profit called the Commons Project Foundation, and Healthvana. The latter company teamed up with Los Angeles County. A county health official said they wanted to “give patients ownership of their records.” Phones were deemed to be particularly useful, since the calendar function and text can remind the public when it’s time to get the second dose of the two-shot regime.  Still, those getting the vaccine in LA County are also said to receive a paper card.

Paper has turned out to be a problem. During Covid there has been a booming market in creating fake test results. Back in November, a publication reported that international travelers (largely outside the U.S.) forged, and sold, negative test results. So, the idea has been to create a “digital health credential” on smartphones that is more secure and less susceptible to fraud. 


Of course, this could raise issues, and this might be at the heart of your question. Should we be worried about privacy and surveillance? The software developer, like Healthvana,  claim that the health pass does not share specific details-like where and when a user was tested. In due time, we can hope that members of the public will no longer need to show that they have been vaccinated in order to do everyday things. If they remember to do so, they can then delete the record from their phones.

VERILY & Apple FOR YOURS:

In the interim, airlines, schools, and employers may need to verify that people actually got the vaccine. And, it could be useful if you want to dine indoors at a favorite restaurant or get admission to say movie theaters and sports events.

If you have children, you will recall that you need to bring a paper certificate with a history of  vaccination records, before they enroll in day-care or school. Today, some doctor’s offices submit those forms digitally. Now it’s looking like you will be bringing the results from the Covid vaccine and other health information on your digital wallet.  It should not be a surprise then  that latest Apple operating system (i0S), is literally  programmed with a health app you cannot delete!

Alzheimers and Smartphones. Friends or Foe?

A black and white cartoon of an older woman holding a smartphone in one hand and a cane in the other.
Alzheimers and Smartphones. Friends or Foe?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Would a smartphone help my Aunt who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease? Right now she has a landline and a flip phone but I am considering giving her my old smartphone instead of trading it in. Then I can send her pictures and images, plus plug her into more social media. The rest of my family doesn’t see it this way. They think the smartphone will just make her feel worse. I am wondering what you would do and if Alzheimers and smartphones make sense together? Cecelia, Boston

Dear Cecilia: Thanks for the useful question. Many people are in your shoes wondering if digital tools can improve the care for older adults. I would begin with a face-value assessment to evaluate if your Aunt is smartphone ready. Does she have the mental faculties to follow digital commands? Does she have good-enough eyesight to see text on a small screen, and is she free from palsy or hand -shakes? As you seek out information, keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor and you should ask a gerontologist to weigh in. There’s actually an app, or a purported app, that can help doctor’s spot signs of Alzheimer’s.

Friendly Smartphone!

Assuming your Aunt passes your face-value test, try communicating with her on a regular basis, using the smartphone. Since social isolation and loneliness often accompany the decline in memory loss, keeping in regular touch might be a healthy intervention.  You might text her, send pictures, or try to engage her on Facebook. Here is an academic paper that prescribes both companionship and memory training over the smartphone to slow down the cognitive decline. Perhaps you can tap your personal knowledge of your Aunt’s social groups and family’s stories to help retain connections and memories.  

If your Aunt is at an early stage of dementia, you could also use the phone, or even better a smart watch, to map her spatial movements. This might help if she’s not supposed to drive a car or gets lost when she goes out. You can set up a “geo-fence” alert so that you don’t have to monitor her whereabouts all the time.

Over-Friendly Smartphone…

At a later stage of dementia, having a smartphone, actually any phone, could be worrisome. As the disease progresses, your Aunt might get lonely or paranoid, and hence more susceptible to soothing messages from an outside caller. There are evil telemarketers and the like who take advantage of people who are not in full command of their mental faculties. 

I often lecture on taking the keys away from older people when they are no longer capable drivers- and can happily point to rideshare as a substitute.  If you need to take away the phone and electronic devices, I imagine there will be tech-backups you want to explore, like a voice activated 911 device, blocking of online accounts and passwords, and ‘beeper reminders’ to take medications. I hope all goes well for you and your Aunt.

Is Smartphone Making Me Worried Sick?

Checking for Covid results on email brings even more angst with the avalanche of email messages…

Worried from messaging on phone? Pacific Lutheran University sends its community reminders of a daily wellness check in on their phones.
Worried sick from messaging? (graphic courtesy of PLU)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is my phone making me sick? I got very worried last week while waiting for the results from a Covid test.  My health center sends out the results by email. So, I kept opening and checking email on my phone to see if it had arrived. Then, each time I went to email, it felt like there was an avalanche of other messages I had to read or respond to. That made me feel even more worried sick! The Covid test came back negative (thankfully) but I am wondering how to tame this email habit I acquired.  Soren, Walnut Creek 

Dear Soren: Glad to hear you are well. Surely it was useful to know the results of your Covid test quickly, particularly if you were feeling under the weather or planning a visit with other people. But, suppose that the result had sat in your inbox for a few hours, instead of checking as soon as it got posted. Would finding out a few hours later have changed things, or made you less worried-sick?

Now, prepare to get scared by the numbers, as the phone tells all! There’s a quantitative way to see how much your phone use increased last week.

On an IPhone (iOS 12 or later) go to Settings and then Screen Time (for Android, look here). Then, under the chart that shows daily activity, scroll far down. There you will find a section that visualizes the number of times you picked up the phone each day, and further report time on the individual apps you used, like email! 

Not So New…

But, back to your question, which was submitted, no surprise, by phone! You make a good point that one behavior, namely checking for a specific message, “begets” another behavior, like doing more email. However, the anxiousness brought on waiting for vital information is not new:  think about time spent waiting for a test-score to arrive in the mail or the nervousness when your doctor’s office tries to reach you over the phone about surgery dates. What is new is that smartphones have no time-constraints so they feed and spiral the angst as we wait for updates or news.

Taming the EMail

With regard to email, analyze how much you need to  use it. There is a recent review that suggests trying Slack or Chat . But, it’s not clear- these platforms might just switch your time use to a different channel, one that emphasizes social, one paragraph content. One latent problem is that using Slack could keep you in an ‘always-on’ status with friends or colleagues.

A different approach is to go on an email diet.  While you continue to check it via your phone, you commit to writing and responding to messages just once or twice a day. On weekends, you try out an email Sabbath. 

Taming the Speed

I used to have a co-worker (whose name I shall not speak aloud) who said that only organ transplant candidates and surgeons needed to check their phone messages around the clock.  In that case, speed matters and lives could be spared.

As early as 2012, Pew Research found that nearly a third of phone and tablet users checked their phones throughout the day for breaking news, and not during a specific time of the day (say before 8 am. or from 5 to 9 pm). So, reflect on what the speed of knowing gets you.  Does the speed feed an ever-growing mound of angst?

Speed will not always be an advantage and time away from our phones may compensate in terms of well-being. You learned this week, gratefully, that well-being, is everything. Thanks for writing.