Be it on cards or in a high-tech jump drive, having your medical file at hand could save your life in an emergency.
Truckers carry plenty of paperwork, from CDLs to directions to logbooks. Too many drivers, however, hit the road without the data that could save their lives: their personal medical information. “I’ve thought about it, but the company never required it,” says Bob Joseph of La Porte, Texas, a 33-year trucking veteran who’s a company driver for Liquid Transport.
Bill Gillen of Phoenix, who’s allergic to penicillin, has gone the extra step to prepare for a worst-case scenario. “I carry a medical card in my wallet in case I have a crash,” says Gillen, a driver for Northland Trucking. Gillen says he spent six years in the military, which emphasizes the importance of proper ID.
In agreement is Nick Carter, an emergency medical technician who has worked primarily in the Boston area. “It is extremely helpful if someone has their medical history and medications list handy,” Carter says. In an emergency, people often find it difficult to remember past medical procedures and the names and doses of their medications.
Such information can be particularly hard to retrieve for over-the-road drivers, who can need help far from home and whose records might be scattered among health providers in different cities.
Today’s options for storing medical information range from simple wallet cards and medical jewelry to the newest technology. Your entire medical history, for example, can fit on a tiny USB drive that plugs into most computers. You can even get a radio frequency identification microchip placed under your skin, which is used to access your medical information in a database (www.verichipcorp.com).
Wendy Sullivan, occupational health manager for Schneider National, recently worked with safety and wellness marketing organization Clement Communications to design an emergency wallet card. The card is being distributed during winter training.
“We’re trying to educate all of our associates to understand their health better,” Sullivan says. The card has a wellness message on one side and medical diagnoses, medications and emergency contacts on the other.
“Medical IDs are critical for anyone who suffers from chronic conditions like heart conditions, diabetes or asthma, or anyone with food, drug or insect allergies,” says Dirk Van Slyke, spokesman for American Medical ID. Someone taking blood thinner for a heart condition, for example, could be seriously harmed if given additional blood thinner, he says.
IDs also help prevent misdiagnosis, Van Slyke says. For example, a diabetic with low blood sugar might appear to be intoxicated.
Carter suggests simply writing or typing something that includes your general medical history and a list of all medications and allergies. Keep it in the cab or in your wallet, right behind your driver’s license. “With those three things, the emergency caregiver can get a sense of the threats to your life, and they can confidently give you the medications that they want to treat you with,” Carter says.
Several websites also offer downloadable wallet cards that people can customize and print for free.
American Medical ID gives a free wallet card to anyone who orders from its line of medical jewelry, Van Slyke says. The card provides more information than can fit on the jewelry, and it allows patients to change information without getting their bracelets or necklaces re-engraved, Van Slyke says.
However, there’s always a chance that emergency personnel might not look in a wallet if the victim is unconscious. Carter says he wasn’t trained to do so; while he looks for a name and date of birth on the driver’s license, he has never looked for or found medical information in the wallet. “But the vast majority of patients that we find are conscious and can tell us where their medical information is,” he says.
Several states even have laws that prohibit medical personnel from searching wallets, Van Slyke says. He suggests that people engrave “See wallet card” on their medical jewelry, which lets medical personnel know more information is available and gives them permission to search for it.
A variation on the wallet card is the Scroll ID. A color photo of the person and vital medical information are printed on a strip of waterproof, tear-proof paper that is rolled up inside a metal cylinder the size of a lip balm. It clips to key chains, bags and other items.
John Blanchard came up with the Scroll ID idea after spending 12 years in emergency medicine and continuously encountering people with no identification or little or no information about their medical history. “It’s just another form of identification that you can carry,” Blanchard says. “You could run over the Scroll with a car, and you could still take out the paper and have all the information you need.”
No form of medical ID is perfect. Bracelets often cannot carry enough vital information. A USB drive requires a computer and power source, two things emergency medical personnel often do not have. In addition, Blanchard says, hospital personnel are wary of plugging in outside devices that could carry a virus.
A scroll, not being visible or obvious to emergency personnel, might not get located if the victim is unconscious. To counter that, Blanchard has written EMS directors in every state and has sent 300 samples to fire departments.
Medical alert bracelets remain the most commonly recognized form of medical identification, Van Slyke says. Emergency responders already are trained to look on the wrist and neck to check the pulse, he says.
American Medical ID offers a wide range of bracelets and necklaces from stainless steel to 14-karat gold. It also offers men’s and women’s watches and sports bands made of nylon with engraved stainless-steel plates. All bear a caduceus, the traditional serpents-and-staff symbol for medicine.
Small charms can hold three engraved lines with two to three words on each line, while larger ones can hold four lines with up to 25 characters per line, Van Slyke says.
American Medical ID buyers also have the option of joining the company’s Online Medical Registry for a one-time fee of $29.99. There, they can create a personal health record, which they can update at any time. They also can engrave their jewelry with the registry’s 24-hour phone number. The company also will fax the patient’s entire file to the emergency room, Van Slyke says.
Critical Access markets a flash drive called the Portable Health Profile, which comes with software that helps people compile their medical information, living wills and medical powers of attorney, says co-inventor Rob Van Dorselaer.
“The heart of the product is that when you get done filling this out, you know that anything that could actually be needed by a physician is in there,” Van Dorselaer says.
The information is easily accessible, he says. “If a doctor wants to know about allergies, he just clicks on ‘allergies’ rather than going through a file with 40 pieces of paper in it.”
In September, the company introduced a waterproof, engravable USB that can be worn as a necklace. “It’s medical jewelry taken into the digital age,” Van Dorselaer says. The company offers a similar product for pets, one that clips onto collars.
Some services offer combinations of all the above. MedicAlert, for example, stores members’ medical information in a database and provides it to emergency responders through a 24-hour hotline, says a company spokesman. Each member is provided with an engraved ID bracelet, a wallet card and decals to place on their vehicle.
Price: Typically free online.
Updating: Just fill out a new one.
Visibility: Emergency personnel might not always check your wallet.
Amount of information: Moderate.
Price: $24.95, which includes four free updates; $4.95 for further updates.
Updating: Must mail a form and wait for a new scroll.
Visibility: Highly visible on a keychain or bag, but emergency personnel might
not look for it.
Amount of information: Moderate.
Price: Starts at $21 for American Medical ID; for MedicAlert, starts at $9.95 with $40 yearly membership fee.
Updating: Must prepay and wait for jewelry to be engraved.
Visibility: Emergency personnel are trained to look for it.
Amount of information: Little.
Price: Varies widely for USB drive or CDs, updates and monthly or yearly subscriptions.
Updating: Via computer or by calling the company.
Visibility: Can carry on necklace or key chain, but emergency personnel still might not recognize them. Requires a computer to access.
Amount of information: Unlimited.
American Medical ID: www.americanmedical-id.com
Critical Access: www.portablehealthprofile.com
Scroll I.D.: www.scrollid.com
Vital Data: www.vitalkey.com