There are many health and wellness apps to choose from. When deciding, you should always consider how they use and protect your personal information.
VA-developed apps use evidence-based content to improve Veterans’ health. They also expand access to care beyond the traditional office visit. Just as importantly, they are built with the highest security standards to keep your information safe.
“VA has developed dozens of apps for Veterans to take charge of their health care,” said Kathleen Frisbee. Frisbee is director of the VA Connected Health. “They keep Veterans’ data securely protected. This enables them to use our apps to improve their health and wellness without concerns about their privacy.”
While all VA apps keep personal information secure, some do so in different ways than others. There are two types of VA Mobile apps: self-contained and connected.
VA Mobile apps use the highest level of security to protect your information.
VA Mobile and trusted VA partners develop self-contained apps. They’re available on public app stores, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play. They also are listed on the VA App Store. These apps help people manage symptoms and learn about different conditions. While they are tailored to Veterans, service members and their families, they can be used by anyone. PTSD Coach, Mindfulness Coach and CBT-i Coach are examples of self-contained apps.
Self-contained apps do not share your personal data. Also, they don’t require you to log on with any VA credentials. VA receives only anonymous data about how these apps are used. For example, which sections people visit. You can opt out of sending this information by turning off the sharing anonymous usage data feature in the app settings.
Some self-contained apps will ask for permission to access your phone’s camera, photos, or contacts. The decision to grant access to these apps is up to you. Your information is not being downloaded or shared. Granting access allows you to personalize how you use self-contained apps.
For example, the PTSD Coach app asks permission to access photos so that users can select personal photos that calm and center them during stressful moments. The app also asks permission to access contacts. As a result, users can add their emergency contacts and reach them easily through the app if they need to.
Developers do not share this information with VA or anyone else. Not even your provider can see what you put in self-contained apps, unless you physically show them the app on your device.
These apps connect to your VA Electronic Health Record, and they enable you to access and download your VA health records and share information with VA providers. Examples of connected apps include VA Video Connect, VA Health Chat, and the Annie App for Veterans.
You can use these apps to access sensitive health information. Consequently, protecting your privacy and security is extremely important. Connected apps require you to log in using My HealtheVet Premium, DS Logon or ID.me credentials. These credentials require secure identity authentication.
Not all connected apps are available on public app stores, but you can find them all on the VA App Store. All connected apps for Veterans have a lock symbol in the app icon on the VA App Store, except for VA Video Connect, Rx Refill, and Ask a Pharmacist.
Using connected apps, you can share important information with your providers to help you, your caregivers, and your VA care team make decisions about your health. VA’s encrypted online network protects the information you send and receive on these apps. Your phone or computer only stores your information if you download it.
If you download health records onto your computer or mobile device, take precautions. Do not save your records on a public computer and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks, as they can be less secure.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the information you share when you use a connected VA app. No one will view your protected health information other than your VA providers. Developers share some administrative information, like dates and times for appointments, with VA employees so they can schedule appointments.
Tips for protecting your online privacy
VA Mobile apps use the highest level of security to protect your information. Still, you also have an important role to play in keeping your private health data secure. Remember to password-protect your devices, including your mobile phone and computer. Exercise caution when using public computers and Wi-Fi networks. And, in case you lose your phone, you should learn how to remotely disable it — Apple and Android phones have this function built in.
Be careful about entrusting your health information to non-VA health apps. Visit the VA App Store to check if an app is VA-approved and learn how VA apps can help you with your health and wellness.
Treva Lutes is a communications specialist for the Office of Connected Care.