By Linda Barlow  |  Apr 7, 2015

Life-Saving Information: Only a Smart Phone Away

For people suffering with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, allergies, or epilepsy, wearing jewelry or carrying wallet cards containing emergency medical information (EMI) can be life-saving. However, some people feel uncomfortable with the stigma attached to EMI, or don’t use such accessories due to cost or inconvenience. Children, especially, are not likely to carry EMI identification because they are often with caregivers who know their medical history and needs.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

Despite these barriers, EMI is vital in emergencies. It can help people identify what is wrong, allow providers to give appropriate medical care, provide the necessary contact information for the patient’s physician and family, and improve time to treatment. But if EMI isn’t available or accessible, it won’t provide these benefits.

Endocrinologists at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore have studied this problem and a potential solution: a smartphone app that can be accessed without knowing the person’s password. Since most people — including kids and teens — carry their mobile phones with them all the time, a smartphone app can circumvent the problem of someone forgetting to carry their traditional EMI. And since it is simply part of their phone, it avoids the discomfort some people have about wearing EMI jewelry.

A report on this new way of sharing EMI, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, reviews the current choices for EMI, as well as its usage and barriers, and introduces a new EMI option for Apple mobile devices.

“A cell phone maintains anonymity of a person’s medical condition unless an emergency requires accessing the EMI,” suggest the report’s authors, noting that medical alert jewelry is more obvious. “Another advantage of cell phone-based EMI is the lack of additional cost for a MedicAlert device and membership or similar service.”

One of the traditional barriers to using smartphone apps for EMI is the need to enter the user’s password to access the app, which isn’t always possible during an emergency. However, Apple’s new iOS 8 software for iPhones and iPads has an application called “Health” that allows a user to enter information that can be accessed from the home screen, even on protected phones.

By opening the Health app and selecting the Medical ID option, patients can provide their medical conditions, medications, allergies, emergency contacts, blood type, organ donor status, and DNR requests. The information can be accessed on a locked home screen by tapping the emergency button and selecting the Medical ID option. On screens without a password lock, the user can access the information by opening the Health application.

“Cell phone-based EMI should be embraced by patients, health care providers, and cell phone programmers,” the authors write. “It remains to be determined whether patients will use technology-based EMI once they are aware of the option. Medical providers, including first responders, should be aware of this technology to educate their patients and to access the information in emergency settings.”

“We are embarking on an education campaign to spread awareness about traditional and modern EMI options,” says Kristina Derrick, MD, MSc, Pediatric Endocrine Fellow, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. “To start, we are creating information sheets that have instructions on obtaining EMI for the smart phone and traditional forms like jewelry and wallet cards. We will be distributing this information to patients, families and pediatricians as well as to emergency department staff and first responders.”

“Some patients may not be convinced of the need to have emergency medical information accessible to others,” Dr. Derrick cautions. “But even a patient or parent who knows everything about the medical condition and contact numbers may not be able to recall or relay this information during an emergency incident.”

Have you or a loved one used a smartphone based EMI to share important medical information with providers? Or is this a technology you would consider using? Let us know in the comments section.