Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
Emergency responders -- No one wants to need them, but we're all glad they're there for us when we do. In an emergency, first responders work fast to pinpoint the problem and begin treatment. Availability of accurate health information helps them to make good decisions, and make them quickly. But what do they do if the victim isn't conscious, or isn't able to give information? What if there's no friend or relative right there who can provide information? What do emergency responders do then?
It's critical for anyone who has a chronic health condition or takes prescription medication to have that information available in an emergency. And it needs to be easy to find and use. There are quite a few ways to make medical information available to emergency responders. We'll go through several examples here.
First, it's important to know where emergency responders are likely to look for medical information in the event you can't tell them. If you're at home, one of the first places they'll look is on the door of your refrigerator. If you're not at home, your wallet or purse is a good place to keep important information. And for those who have serious medical concerns, wearing a necklace, bracelet, or other wearable engraved with information can be life-saving.
What information needs to be shared with emergency responders?
At a minimum, emergency responders need a list of your health problems, medicines, and allergies. You may also want to share emergency contact information, along with advance directives (such as a living will or a request not to be resuscitated). Other information that may be helpful includes your doctor's name and phone number, problems such as hearing loss, blood type, and any other information you feel is important to your care.
How can you be sure emergency responders will find your information?
One way to alert emergency responders to the location of information is to use the Vial of Life program. Vial of Life is free of charge, and provides an easy-to-use form to record all your important medical information. There are decals that help emergency responders find your information quickly, and to notify them as they enter your home that you participate in the program.
Other forms are available too. One is a Huron Valley Ambulance Care Card, which fits inside a magnetic sleeve. It's available free to residents of Washtenaw County and surrounding areas in southeastern Michigan (my local area) by simply calling 734-477-6782 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. . Another organization known as Life Senior Services has a free downloadable form. Or you can just make your own by writing down all the important information described above. But whatever form you use, be sure to put it in an identifiable envelope or baggie and post it on your refrigerator.
For use in your wallet, download the BetterMyMeds wallet medication and health card. This card has plenty of room for all the important information described above and fits nicely into a wallet or purse.
What about wearables such as jewelry, with engraved alerts?
Medical ID's are a great choice for those with life-threatening medical conditions, or conditions that might cause unconsciousness. There are lots of these to choose from. Just enter "medical identification tag" into the search bar of your favorite browser and you'll find many choices. One well-known example is Medicalert. This organization sells a variety of medical IDs, and they also offer several fee-based services for added peace of mind. One optional service a 24-hour phone number that gives emergency responders access to your health information using the code number engraved on your medical ID. Check out other sellers and organizations to compare customer reviews, products, and services before deciding!
But how can you reach emergency responders if you can't make a phone call or speak for yourself?
Here's another situation where a wearable comes in handy. For people who are frequently alone and at risk of falls or sudden illness, wearing a device that can immediately summon help can be life-saving. As with medical IDs, there are a number of options.
Here in southeastern and south central Michigan, the ambulance services of several counties have combined to form Emergent Health Partners. This nonprofit offers its own alert system known as Lifelink. Lifelink provides a wearable button, and also gives you the option to grant responders access to your home if you can't open the door. There are also a number of nationally-operated alert systems. A recent review of several alert systems may provide helpful information for anyone considering a purchase.
In some areas, emergency response teams have systems that allow responders to gain access to your home using a lockbox. Your housekey is kept inside the lockbox, and it hangs on your doorknob. By providing them with the code to open the lockbox, they'll have the ability to get into your house without your help if necessary. The code is kept in a secure system, so you can be confident that only emergency responders will have access to it. Call your local fire department or emergency response service for more information.
Document your health information, post it, then KEEP IT CURRENT!
There are many ways to make sure your health information is available for emergency personnel if you need it. These are just a few of the available options. If you're one of the many people who want to be ready in case of an emergency, don't wait! Look into one or more of these options right away. Then, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT, keep the information updated! It's easy to forget to go back and revise medication lists, health problems, and so forth. But keeping health information accurate and up-too-date can be the difference between life and death.
If you have had experience with one of these methods, or another method that wasn't discussed here, please take a moment and comment below to help others who may need it!