Have you configured your Medical ID on your iPhone? Mike Matthews wrote about this feature for us in “Can Your iPhone Replace Your Wallet?” (30 June 2017), but all too many people haven’t taken the time to enter the few bits of information that could save their lives in the event of serious injury. So it’s worth repeating, with an added bit of detail about emergency contacts that I’ve just learned.

Configure Medical ID

Apple has made it easier to create and edit your Medical ID in recent versions of iOS. You can now access it in one of two ways. Either open the Health app, tap your avatar, and tap Medical ID, or go to Settings > Health > Medical ID. Once you’re there, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Edit at the upper right.
  2. Fill in your personal details, including medical conditions, medical notes, allergies and reactions, and any medications you take regularly. This is the crucial bit—it’s essential that medical personnel have this information to avoid administering a drug that could cause an adverse reaction.
  3. At the bottom, tap Add Emergency Contact, select a contact, and—this can be confusing—select the phone number at which you would want them notified in case of emergency. Also, specify a relationship—it may be useful to emergency responders. Repeat for as many people as you’d want to be notified.
  4. Tap Done to save your information.

How to edit your Medical ID info

If you just want to add an emergency contact, there’s an easier approach.

  1. Open Contacts (or Phone > Contacts) and tap the contact card for the person you want to add.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and tap Add to Emergency Contacts.
  3. If the person has more than one phone number, select which number should be alerted in case of emergency.

One note: It doesn’t matter what phone number you select if it’s just for emergency responders or medical personnel to use. However, if you can imagine wanting to use the Emergency SOS feature of the iPhone or Apple Watch, make sure to select a phone number that can receive a text message, since Emergency SOS uses text messages to alert your emergency contacts.

Use Medical ID

To access your Medical ID, press and hold both the side button and either of the volume buttons for a few seconds to bring up Emergency SOS, and then slide the Medical ID slider. Note that this also disables Touch ID and Face ID; you’ll have to enter your passcode the next time you want to unlock the iPhone.

To access someone else’s Medical ID—if they’re in an accident and you’re helping—follow these steps:

  1. From the Lock screen, press the Home button or swipe up to get to the Passcode screen. You don’t want Touch ID or Face ID to work here—the goal is to see the passcode keypad.
  2. Tap Emergency in the lower-left corner.
  3. On the Emergency Call screen, tap Medical ID.

How to access Medical ID on a locked iPhone

Verify Emergency Contacts

Here’s the problem a friend recently pointed out. When you add an emergency contact to your Medical ID, you’re adding a specific phone number, not the person’s contact card in general. What happens if you change the emergency contact’s phone number? At least in iOS 13, the Medical ID contact information updates properly; it’s conceivable that previous versions of iOS did not do this.

However, if you were instead to change the emergency contact’s phone number by removing the old number and adding a new one—a not unreasonable thing to do—the link between the contact and the Medical ID breaks, and the previous number remains listed in Medical ID. The solution is to remove the emergency contact from your Medical ID and add the person again.

The practical upshot of this realization is that if you set up your Medical ID some time ago, it’s worth checking your emergency contacts to make sure the correct phone numbers are still listed.

You can see them listed in your Medical ID, of course, but if you look in the Contacts app, you’ll also see a bold red asterisk next to the name of each emergency contact. In their contact cards, Emergency Contact will appear at the top, and that red asterisk will appear next to the appropriate phone number. (If the red asterisk doesn’t appear when you think it should, I suspect that means the link between the phone number and the Medical ID emergency contact has been broken, such that Medical ID is just holding onto the last-seen number.)

How to identify emergency contacts in Contacts

So take a minute and make sure you have a Medical ID configured in your iPhone and check that your emergency contacts show the correct phone numbers. The life you save could be your own.