Heading to a concert venue or restaurant that requires proof of COVID vaccination? Need to show your boss you got tested? If your medical records are in Epic System’s MyChart software, you might be able to leave your vaccine card at home.
That’s because the Verona-based health records software company has added a new function to its patient portal, allowing patients to view their COVID-19 vaccination or testing records and show them to others without revealing other personal information. It also allows patients to display a QR code that businesses and event organizers can scan with the SMART Health Card Verifier app, a specialized QR code reader developed by the Commons Project Foundation.
Epic, the biggest player in the health records software business, added the digital vaccine credential to its MyChart software this summer without fanfare. Rather than advertise it to the public, the company alerted its health care system clients that they could choose to enable the feature and promote it among their patients. The clients began implementing it in July, and the list has been growing since, the company said.
“Today, over 70 million patients across all 50 states have access to the vaccination credential in Epic, and we expect that number to climb to over 100 million in 2022,” said Epic implementation executive Nick Frenzer at a Friday news conference.
Locally, the credential is available to patients of SSM Health, UW Health, UnityPoint Health and Group Health Cooperative of Southern Wisconsin. Anyone, including businesses and event organizers, can download the SMART Health Card Verifier app to check COVID status of guests, customers or employees as needed. Both the MyChart feature and the Verifier app are free.
By offering an alternative for those who’ve been carrying around their vaccination card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — or keeping a photo of it on their phones — the digital credential reduces both the risk of losing one’s vaccination card and the risk of having personal information stolen.
A user must unlock both their phone and their MyChart app in order to access their record, explained Larry Elfman, chief medical information officer for SSM Health’s Wisconsin region.
“For any folks who are concerned that I'm giving up privacy and giving the event venue information that I really don't want them to have about my personal health history or anything else, be reassured that none of that is being shared,” Elfman said, noting that he plans to use the digital credential for the first time when he sees James Taylor and Jackson Browne play Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum in December.
The digital tool also makes it harder to fake a vaccination credential, said Dave Kunstman, chief medical information officer for UW Health. Some states have rolled out their own vaccine credential apps, and Wisconsin residents can view, download and print their records in English, Spanish and Hmong through the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. Private companies have also developed vaccine apps, including VeriFLY and Clear.
Epic isn’t the only entity issuing vaccine credentials that can be read by the SMART Health Card Verifier app. Cerner, which holds the second largest share of the health records software market, offers digital credentials through its HealthLife app. Dozens of pharmacies and state governments issue compatible credentials too.
How to use it
From the MyChart app, users can display a text version of their credential, which is especially useful if the person checking credentials is not familiar with the new tool. They can also generate a QR code that can be read only with an accompanying QR code reader app. Both versions display only the user’s name, photo, date of birth and vaccination status or test results. Users can also print the text or QR pages.
COVID vaccines and tests administered through the patient’s health care system will appear automatically in the MyChart app, but other records will need to be added. To add vaccines or tests administered elsewhere in Wisconsin, patients can use the app to query state records. To add vaccines or tests administered out of state, patients can submit their records to their health care provider.
The tool is especially useful now that more children are eligible for vaccinations, said Wendy Mortimore, chief medical information officer for UnityPoint Health. Parents and caregivers can request proxy access to children’s MyChart records in order to show proof of their vaccination or testing status, rather than carrying multiple vaccination cards.
“MyChart offers a really convenient way to allow parents and caregivers to have access at their fingertips, digitally on their phones, to all this information that they need,” Mortimore said.
Venues check vaccine status
Among the venues and organizers that have used the app to check attendees’ status are the Overture Center for the Arts and the Madison Chamber of Commerce. Venues like the Overture Center, The Sylvee and Majestic Theatre require proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours, while Genna’s Cocktail Lounge accepts only vaccinated patrons.
Emily Gruenewald, chief development and communications officer for the Overture Center, said she was “grateful” for the new tool.
“Our audiences are so happy to be back in theaters and galleries, and many have commented that it gives them peace of mind to know that others are vaccinated or tested negative,” Gruenwald said, noting that COVID case numbers trended up again locally last week. “Thank you, Epic, for helping Overture Center for the Arts provide that peace of mind.”
Now Epic hopes that more patients will try accessing their vaccine records in the app and that more venues and institutions will begin using the SMART Health Card Verifier app for checking their attendees.
“I think the key is to put it out into patients and have them feel comfortable using it,” Frenzer said, noting that businesses often want to use the tools their customers are familiar with.
In the future, the tool could be adapted to other scenarios, allowing patients to share select pieces of health information. “There's a lot of opportunity, and we’re working closely with Commons project to identify future use cases,” Frenzer said.