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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

Do You Wear Medical Identification?   (September 28, 2012)

Every now and then, I see an advertisement for some sort of medical identification jewelry, and I cringe to think that there are people who don’t have medical id – or have it at home but don’t wear it regularly. Why? Because I know how important – and indeed lifesaving – it would be to have a first-responder, paramedic or ER physician aware of the fact that an unconscious patient has a hidden disorder such as diabetes, or heart disease, or whatever.  All too often, people with chronic diseases don’t want to wear medical identification (which I’ll call MID) out of some misguided view that “it’s ugly.”

This brings up a basic problem of MID: if it’s beautiful, it’s too easy to overlook the fact that it’s more than just jewelry. And if it’s too ugly, then many folks may choose to forego wearing it.

But MID can be very helpful if not lifesaving. I recall an episode where an unconscious patient was brought to the ER by ambulance from the site of a car crash. Somehow, his wallet had disappeared, and he had no MID. He was listed as “John Doe” and treated as a trauma victim. Several hours later, his family showed up looking for him, and were able to identify John Doe as one of their family. And to tell the medical staff he had insulin-dependent diabetes.

His initial blood sugar had been perfectly normal, and no one had suspected that he might have diabetes, so he had been treated with steroids and intravenous glucose. A routine follow-up glucose wasn’t due for several more hours, but an urgent fingerstick glucose value was off-the-chart. In retrospect, there was no way to ascertain whether he had been in superb control at the time of the crash and remainded that way during transport to the ER, or if he had had an insulin reaction followed by rebounding to normal glucose levels due to the super-stress of the accident. But how much better it would have been to have had MID and let the medics know he had diabetes!

MedicAlert bracelet

I personally have been an advocate for one brand of MID for many years as it combines medical ID with a live 24/7 emergency medical information service. The nonprofit MedicAlert Foundation was founded over 50 years ago. They have a huge number of different bracelets, necklaces, and shoe tags, ranging in price from just under $10 to almost $2000, but the reason I advise using MedicAlert is the engravings on the reverse side: (1) Their 24/7 emergency response phone number, (2) your medical information (such as “diabetes – insulin pump”) and (3) your own MedicAlert member number. If a medical professional sees the MID and calls the 800 number and provides your MedicAlert member number, the staff at MedicAlert will read them back whatever information you’ve put on file with them.

(Photo reproduced with permission of MedicAlert)

At their website, you can enter your medical info into your “Emergency Medical Information Record” – including addresses and phone numbers for emergency contacts, your medical providers, medications, diagnoses, allergies, devices (e.g., an insulin pump), and other information such as blood type and organ donor status.

MedicAlert has a sponsored membership program for folks who can’t handle their annual fee. You’d need to complete the usual enrollment form, explain your financial circumstances, and include documentation of hardship.

One last comment about MedicAlert: MedicAlert® is a U.S. registered trademark and service mark, so other companies frequently use a very similar term for their products: “Medical Alert”.

Of course, there may be some people who will want MID or some sort “diabetes jewelry” without the cost of an annual fee. I really don't see any advantage in wearing one brand or another of ID except personal preference, unless the ID is coupled with a service such as that provided by MedicAlert.

There’s lots of drugstore MIDs – some of which you can see on-line: for instance, seach at Walgreens for "medical id bracelets and necklaces"

There's also some really great-looking MID stuff available – see for instance the MIDs available from Medical ID Fashions (example below). 

Medical ID Fashion bracelet

Reproduced with permission of Medical ID Fashions. ©2012 Abbe Sennett Design.

By the way, they point out that they use the “Star of Life” on their Medical Alert ID Plates, and provide optional engraving on the flip side from the Star. (The “Star of Life” is used by Emergency Medical Services vehicles and on badges and patches  of EMS personnel, but is also appropriate for use “on bracelets and other items of apparel worn by a patient to inform authorized emergency medical care providers to medical conditions…”)

Another article on MIDs is at Diabetes Forecast: Fun and Fashion-Forward Medical ID Jewelry.

If you are wearing MID now, congratulations. If you have a MID bracelet or dogtags stashed somewhere in the dresser drawer or jewelry case, dig it out and wear it. And if you don’t have MID, get with it!

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