Thursday, September 6, 2012

Are You Prepared for a Medical Emergency? The Importance of Medical Records and Emergency Contacts

By Margot Malin and guest blogger Dan Schiavello

Back to School offers a time for fresh beginnings.
Have you created a back to school check list? Clothes, books, pens & pencils, shoes, rain gear  - what items can you check off?

Maybe the most important items are not even on your list.  Have you considered:
1. Organizing family health records?
2. Identifying emergency contacts or designating a medical advocate?

You don't have to be a school parent; you don't even need to have children to use the month of September to get your health records and Emergency Contacts up to date and in order. It can save your life or the life of a loved one.

The Importance of Personal Health Records

You don't have to be sick to create a personal health record. In fact, the best time to organize your records may be when no one is in a crisis mode.  Why organize your records?  Whether individuals and their families are relatively healthy and going for a routine doctor's visit, or managing a chronic condition, many want to be actively involved in thier healthcare experience. At some point in time most families have children who might be going on a field trip, on a music competition, to a multi day extracurricular event such as choir, DECA or Model UN. Medical situations requiring health history can develop during participation in junior varsity or varsity sports, or a traveling sports program and parents are not always readily available under these circumstances. Also consider that accidents or illnesses can occur when children are on a teen tour, traveling abroad on a summer program for a semester or are away at college.

An appropriate medical record should contain physician contact information, insurance information, detailed information on medical alerts, emergency contacts, health conditions, medications, allergies, illness history and immunization records. Medical records can also store test results such as radiology reports (X-Rays and MRI's). Lack of information can lead to devastating medical oversights. Access to medical information, whether you have a medical emergency just down the street or halfway around the world, can help keep you and your family safe.

Medical records should be thorough. They can start as "analog" records and be created in a loose leaf binder, or a series of folders. However, digital records - also called personal health records - are easier to carry, and can be easier to interpret because they are methodically organized.  Digital health records can also be more thorough since personal health record software can prompt you for items that might otherwise be forgotten or omitted.  MRI's and X-Rays can be stored on electronic personal health records which means you won't have to carry around unwieldy bags or folders filled with radiology images and reports. It is important to note the difference between personal health records and the computer records which many physicians are starting to use. They are not the same thing. Your personal health record carries all of your personal health information. Most physician records only include the records that you create in one specific physician group or hospital. Said in another way, personal health records differ from the electronic health records maintained by physicians which are usually physician specific and usually not coordinated among providers.

One example of an electronic personal health record is the Minerva Health Manager.  You can read more about the surprisingly affordable Minerva Health Manager by clicking here. With your complete health history in hand — whether printed as a report from your own computer to your own printer, or carried on your Minerva slimline or wristband Flash Drive, iPhone, iPad or Android — you are in a better position to receive the very best health care for you and your family. Minerva Health Manager includes family health history reports that record hereditary health conditions in your family tree — so you can work with health care professionals to take the right steps to help maintain your good health, as early as possible. Minerva can empower you to make good choices for your health. 

Finding an "Emergency Contact"

When your children are going back to school, you are usually asked to provide a list of "emergency contacts" - people who are ready to stand in your shoes, and be called in the event that you are unreachable when a health situation develops.

Do you know what kinds of characteristics are important in emergency contacts?
First and foremost - the emergency contact has to know that they have been designated as a contact! It is surprising how many people choose a friend and write the friend's name on the emergency contact form without even asking them!

Here are some other things to think about when selecting an emergency contact:

1. Will they be available in case you can't be reached? Contacts that have jobs that are a long commuting distance from the school or sports arena are not ideal. Contacts who travel frequently and are often out of town are not ideal. Distant relatives are not appropriate emergency contacts for this situation.

2. Does the person agree to be an emergency contact? Explicitly ask them. Do not assume. You would like someone who agrees to step in to act on your behalf in an emergency not someone who doesn't even know that they have been designated, and may feel uncomfortable in the position.

3. Do they know the important medical information related to your child?
This means any allergies (especially to medications), the names and locations of primary care physicians, your child's insurance information and other details that you deem important.  Having a carefully completed personal health record available for your emergency contact is very helpful and could become life saving under certain circumstances. The Minerva Health Manager is one type of personal health record that combines ease of use with portability. You can give a flash drive to your emergency contact, or have your child carry it in their backpack for accessibility at all times.  If your child has a personal health record, make sure to let your emergency contact know!

4. Do you trust them to stand in your shoes until you can be reached or until you arrive to take over?

5. Do they ask important questions?

6. Will they remain calm?

7. Do you trust their decision making capabilities, especially related to medical issues?

The designation of an emergency contact is an important consideration. Many people do not give this the thought that it deserves.  Did you know that medical errors are the third largest cause of death after heart disease and cancer?

An emergency contact is not the same as a medical advocate, though you might also consider some of the characteristics described by Michele Robson in her medical advocate article by clicking here. A medical advocate is an even more demanding position. The characteristics described in Ms. Robson's article such as: having a big mouth and being tough and reliable can also be important considerations for emergency contacts.

September is an important time of year to update and review the medical records of your children and your family. It also provides the opportunity to consider who you trust to be available to step into your shoes in case you are not available when an emergency occurs. Many people don't take this process seriously. Don't be one of them! Having organized medical records and a competent emergency contact can save the life of a loved one in an emergency.

Margot Main is CEO, President and Founder of Lots To Live For, Inc. - a website that sells products to help reduce and relieve the unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Dan Schiavello is President and Founder of Minerva Health Technologies. The medical information stored on a Minerva Health Manager flash drive actually saved Dan's life when he was taken to an emergency room.

Both authors have experience filling out numerous health records and emergency contact forms for their children and other family members over several decades.