Between now and when we all have RFID chips embedded under our skin relaying medical information pertinent in emergencies, such as penicillin allergies, heart conditions, diabetes and prescription histories, medical bracelets remain the main way to communicate with emergency responders when a patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to.
Medical bracelets are getting a health IT steroid boost, as reported by The Wall Street Journal “Informed Patient” blogger and bone-marrow transplant recipient Laura Landro. Landro has a personal stake; her medical bling needs to inform caregivers that she received a bone-marrow transplant — and can only receive irradiated blood when transfusions are necessary. She reports that new bracelets not only communicate medical information on the spot with the words and symbols on the metal, but they can also point health care providers to websites that contain much more detailed information. In some cases, that site can contain a patient’s up-to-date personal health record (PHR).
This isn’t your daddy’s chunky bracelet he wore back in the 1970s. Patients can choose lighter, more fashionable bracelets, which might grab an EMT’s attention right off. More privacy-minded patients can choose dog tags or lighter pendants worn around their necks or even carry USB drives, as Kaiser Permanente offers its northern California members. Those who might need the jewelry but can’t bear the choices most companies offer can fork over $2,250 for a Tiffany gold bracelet or $950 for a gold pendant.
The main point in all this, IT administrators: Old-school medical jewelry has proven itself a life-saver over the decades. The current HIT infrastructure buildup affords your facility a real opportunity to put a high-tech spin on that low-tech device by giving responders and physicians at other hospitals deep information instantly through PHRs and health information exchange.
Jumping on this bandwagon and recommending at-risk patients set up PHRs, keep them updated, and offer access via their bracelets — or whatever mode of alert device they carry — is one way you can extend your HIT initiatives to improve outcomes and even save lives.