Access your emergency medical identification via smartphone

As medical providers, we recognize the value and importance of emergency medical identification (EMI), especially for our patients who live with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and severe allergies. Of particular concern are those who may require emergency care during a time when they are unable to communicate, but how often do we address this topic with our patients, and do they really listen?

Health care professionals have long recommended that such patients obtain emergency medical identification, such as MedicAlert jewelry (bracelet, dog tag necklace) or wallet cards, that allows people to easily identify when someone is having a medical emergency and take steps to get appropriate medical help. Many people do utilize such accessories. However, the majority of people, including children, do not wear emergency medical identification, and this can pose great risks.

In our pediatric diabetes practice, as part of our new onset diabetes education we recommend that patients obtain and carry emergency medical identification. However, only a small number of patients actually have these identification accessories. Some concerns may be the cost of the jewelry and associated membership, forgetting to wear it, or stigma from the visible jewelry. Many of our adolescent and young adult patients have smartphones that they always carry with them, so we recommend that providers inform their patients with chronic medical conditions about setting up emergency medical identification on their cellular phones.

The new iOS version 8.0 for iPhone and iPad includes an application called Health that is automatically loaded onto the user’s device. Within this application, patients can set up their Medical ID that contains information such as medical conditions, allergies, medications, emergency contacts, physician information, and care requests (for example, Do Not Resuscitate). This information can then be accessed from the locked home screen of the device by selecting the “emergency” option. There are applications on cellular phones with the Android platform that can be downloaded and will allow similar access from a locked home screen, but the user must find and download the application rather than having it automatically appear on the device.

EMI information is vital in emergencies, it can help people identify what is wrong, allow providers to give appropriate medical care, provide contact information for the patient’s physician and family, and improve time to treatment. EMI may be even more important in patients who speak English as a second language. We also believe it is important for emergency medical services personnel and emergency department staff to know such technology exists and look on cellular phones for this information.

The Health application has the potential to be a life-saving tool that is more appealing and cost-effective than traditional EMI.

Kristina Derrick is a pediatric endocrinology fellow, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, NY.

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