Question of the Week

August 8, 2005


No one wants to think about the possibility of facing a medical emergency. Whether it be a car accident, a problem while out for a run, or maybe even an incident while on vacation, medical personnel can offer better assistance when they know who you are and have some medical history. Even less popular than thinking about a sudden injury or illness, is the idea of thinking about how anyone would know who to contact if your injuries or ailments were fatal.

"Several next-of-kin contact systems were set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, such as the nonprofit National Next of Kin Registry established in January 2004 that shares information provided to state agencies in the event of an emergency. The registry was set up by Mark Cerney, a disabled Marine who noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2003, 900,000 emergency room patients could not provide contact information because they were incapacitated."

Whether or not people carry their driver's licenses -- or other forms of identification -- they may have cell phones.

"Cell users are being urged to put the acronym ICE -- 'in case of emergency' -- before the names of the people they want to designate as next of kin in their cell addressbook, creating entries such as 'ICE -- Dad' or 'ICE -- Alison.' At least two police forces in the United States are considering the idea, according to the initiative's British-based promoters, who say there has been a flurry of interest since the recent bombings in London. Paramedics, police and firefighters often waste valuable time trying to figure out which name in a cell phone to call when disaster strikes, according to current and retired members of the emergency services, who said they must look through wallets for clues, or scroll through cell address books and guess."

This "flurry of interest" has largely traveled though email around the world. With anything that makes the round on-line, there can be a little truth mixed with fiction. In
this case:
"Claim:   Paramedic advocates cell phone users store emergency contact information in their address books, but such entries leave phones vulnerable to attack.
Status:   Multiple � see below:
* Paramedic advocates cell phone users store emergency contact information in their address books:   True.
* 'ICE' entries in stored in cell phones allow viruses to access those units and drain them of their credits:  False."

Paramedics DO recommend the practice, and using the ICE designation will NOT compromise information stored on the phone, or the phone itself. That said, it can sometimes be difficult to match a phone to an owner, while some form of identification that carries a photo is often easier to connect with an individual if there is a problem. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that all Americans create a family plan in case of disaster. Part of creating this plan includes a wallet card to be kept with the driver's license or other identification. This card is to include the following information:

"Family Communications Plan
       Contact Name:
       Out-of-Town Contact Name:
       Neighborhood Meeting Place:
       Meeting Place Telephone:"

Why have such information?

"Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another and review what you will do in different situations. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members...."

Even if there is not a national disaster, medical personnel can use this same information in the event of a personal emergency. Similarly, when traveling out of the country, two of the top ten tips recommended by the U.S. Department of State to "make your trip easier" address emergency contact information.

"If you are traveling abroad here are [two of] the top 10 tips you need to make your trip easier:
1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport! ...
5. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency."

Whether a person is in a country where a tsunami strikes, the victim of a crime or terrorist attack, or is simply unable to communicate because of a medical problem, the information carried in written form can serve as a voice. This can help bring help sooner, and can help emergency personnel better serve the needs of patients and their families.

"When an American dies abroad, the Bureau of Consular Affairs must locate and inform the next-of-kin. Sometimes discovering the next-of-kin is difficult. If the American's name is known, the Bureau's Office of Passport Services will search for his or her passport application. However, the information there may not be current. ... In the case of an injured American, the embassy or consulate abroad notifies the task force, which notifies family members in the U.S. The Bureau of Consular Affairs can assist in sending private funds to the injured American; frequently it collects information on the individual's prior medical history and forwards it to the embassy or consulate."

Here in the United States, it is important to know about a program that is active in much of the nation -- especially if you babysit or have younger siblings.

"The CHAD program involves the distribution of stickers, which can identify children involved in traffic crashes, and should be placed on the side or rear of the child safety seat. This program was launched in Illinois in 1992, as a result of a traffic crash involving a 13-month old boy. The child's sitter who had been driving, was killed in the crash and the boy, named Chad, was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. The toddler had to wait for more than an hour for medical treatment, because hospital officials were unable to identify him until a family friend happened to walk by his gurney. Later, Chad's parents teamed up with the Illinois Department of Transportation to produce the CHAD stickers so that this nightmare would not happen again on our roadways. ... CHAD stickers contain space for identifying information about the child such as name, parent's information, emergency contact information, medication and allergies, and special needs. ... responders can look for the sticker with potentially life-saving information to ensure rapid identification of the child by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel in such an emergency."

Questions of the Week:
Do you normally carry identification? Do you normally have anything with you that has emergency contact information? In what situations are you, your peers, or your family members less likely to have identification or contact information where a medical professional could find it in the event of an emergency? What information should people have with them at all times? How can you carry this information so that you or a medical professional can easily access it if the need should arise? How should this information be carried so that it is not easily accessible to strangers or others who should not have it?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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