Fast Track Your Family's ER Treatment                                       By Laura & Janet Greenwald


Elaine Sullivan was an active seventy-one year old, living on her own in Chicago.  One day while getting ready to take a bath, she slipped and fell, striking her head and mouth on the side of the tub.  Her neighbors didnít see her for a few hours and called the paramedics who went in and found her, conscious, but unable to speak.     

Elaine had been a patient at that hospital before, she had private insurance, Medicare and everything she needed.  Or so she thought.  Even though she was stable, injuries to her mouth made her unable to speak or swallow.  Over the next few days after a series of serious medical errors and a critical drug interaction, her condition worsened.    

Elaine Sullivan was my grandma.  Despite the fact that the hospital had my mother's and my contact information for our home in Los Angeles, the hospital neglected to call us for 6 1/2 days.  By the time they did, Grandma was in critical condition, from a lack of the most basic care.  By the time we found out she'd been hospitalized, it was too late and we were unable to get to her bedside before she died, unnecessarily and alone.    

As we found out the hard way, some hospitals donít make calling your next of kin, their priority.  

Even though most hospitals try to find an unconscious patient's emergency contacts and notify them in a reasonable amount of time, sometimes they're just too busy, distracted or understaffed. 

Later we found that one of the main factors that caused Grandmaís death was the fact that the doctors treating her didn't have her medical or prescription drug history at their fingertips. 

Of course the reason they didn't have it, is that they didn't call us to obtain it.  But through this, we found out first-hand how critical communicating that information can be.   

In the years since, weíve found that our story is only the tip of a very deep iceberg.  There are hundreds of stories of people who were literally minutes away from the hospital where their family member lay dying, but were never contacted.  When the call came it was hours, days or in some cases weeks later, if it came at all.  In many cases, just like ours, the loved one died completely and unnecessarily alone.    

Recent natural disasters and terrorist attacks, have only amplified the need to get a trauma victim's identification, medical history and emergency contact information as quickly as humanly possible.   

When a patient is brought in the emergency room unconscious, besides obvious injuries, the doctors caring for him, have basically no information about their patient.  They have no idea what he might be allergic to, what medications heís taking or the surgery he had the month before. When it comes to you and your family, itís up to you to fill in that missing piece BEFORE emergencies occur. 

Making Emergency Information Accessible 

No matter how much work you do in compiling your familyís medical history and vital information, it will do you no good if the hospital treating your loved ones, canít access it.   If your spouse or child is in a situation where they canít speak for themselves and you arenít there to speak for them, something has to do the speaking for them. 

When someone you love is injured or sick, the first thing you want to do is make sure that she receives the care she needs Ė immediately.  And nothing can stand in the way of that happening.  Itís easy to do and it only comes down to one word Ė communication.  

Communicating Your Contacts 

The first step is to make sure that any ER treating you or your family in an emergency, would know who to contact about you.  Begin with yourself.  If you ended up in the ER unable to speak or make choices for your own medical care, who would you want by your side?  Your spouse?  Your parent?     

Then sit down with each member of your family and decide who their two main emergency contacts are going to be.  Depending on your cell phone model, you should be able to put quite a bit of information right in that one contact.  The contact name of course will be ICE, but you can put the contactís first name and relationship, (for example Cynthia Ė Mom) in the company name field, so a doctor reading it, would know that this contact is the patientís mother.

Play around with the other fields until you fill in all the information you possibly can.  For example: 

*        Your emergency contactís main phone number

*        Cell number

*        Work number

*        Email Address

*        IM, Twitter and Facebook address if you need to send them emergency messages or quick updates

*       A direct URL link to your Grab It And Go Medical Forms (optional)

For a second contact person, type in a second entry and name it ICE2.

Now about that last item Ė the direct URL Link.  Letís say you (or someone you love), are unconscious and unable to give the trauma team treating you, your basic medical history. 

Think about this for a moment.  This means that you canít tell them what medicines youíre allergic to or what conditions you might have that could prove fatal, if they donít treat you, or your spouse or your child, with your personal medical history in mind.   

In our Safe Family Action Plan we include Grab it and Go Medical forms to capture each member of your familyís information, but whether you use one of those or simply type or write your medical history and insurance information out by hand, scan or save the documents on your computer, and store one copy of the documents in the file manager of your personal web site, or secure online file system.  Put the URL to this document or file into your cell phone.   

This way if you are injured, the hospital will be able to grab your medical history and extended emergency contacts.  If your spouse, child or even a parent is injured and you are in another location, you can easily access that document and email it to the hospital to speed emergency treatment.  You might even include a treatment consent form for your children, in case a hospital needs one to begin treating your child, before you arrive.  

How Good Is Your Family At Communication? 

Yes they can talk on the phone for hours at a time and IM (instant message) until their fingers fall off.  But do they have what they need on them, to speak for them in an emergency?  

Remember the old Medic Alert bracelets?  Doctors became so accustomed to spotting the silver bracelet on a patientís arm, alerting them to allergies or chronic diseases, that any time entire generations of kids, had a medical problem, they had a bracelet strapped to their arm whether they liked it or not! They havenít changed since the Ď70s and you know why?  Because they work!   

The problem is, just alerting a hospital to a disease or an allergy doesnít tell the whole story about a patient.  So that is what weíre about to do.  Think about your spouseís daily routine for a moment.  Does she always take a cell phone, a purse with her, or a backpack?  Does he go running every day wearing nothing but shorts and an iPod?  Does he or she always carry a wallet, or almost never?   

Wallet Cards 

How do you ensure your family members always have basic emergency information with them, every time they leave the house?  The simplest way to do it is with a Wallet Card.  We provide a souped-up version along with the Safe Family and Safe Student Action Plans.  But you can make your own if you need to.  Just print out a basic card, thatís the same size as your credit cards.  On one side, type or print the personís name, birth year/blood type, physician and emergency contact names/numbers and allergies.  On the reverse, you can place the details (meeting place, necessary phone numbers) of your familyís emergency plan.   

You can use these cards for every member of the family.  The plan can detail a local meeting place, in case of a local disaster, as well as an alternate out of area location. 

Once you make your cards, where do you put them?  Have your spouse or children place one card in a purse or wallet that they carry all the time or in a prominent place in their briefcase or backpacks.  If they carry their company or student ID in a plastic badge holder, tuck the wallet card behind the ID.   They can also place one behind their iPod, if they use a case or a skin.

Most accidents happen just a few blocks from home, exactly where people feel comfortable doing errands or going out for a run without their driver's license or other ID.   Not very helpful when the most basic information any hospital needs to treat you, is your name!  Here are a few tips to make your ID and other basic information easy to find, even when you're on the run.

If you have a company ID badge, slip one of your wallet cards into it for those quick runs out of the office for meetings or a snack.   

What about the times you and your family are out running, or playing sports, or running errands with no wallet or purse in sight. 

Thereís a great product called a Shoewallet, which is a sturdy, lightweight wallet you take with you when you're on the go to hold your Wallet Card, cash, keys, your state ID, your vital information, credit cards, transit cards, Starbucks or gym membership cards, hotel keys - nearly anything you need when you don't have a purse, briefcase or simply can't carry a big fat wallet. 

The twist is, they securely fasten to almost anything.  You can fasten them to your running shoes if you're out jogging or at the gym, to a belt loop or your company ID badge if you're out walking, to an iPod or cell phone case, or you can just drop it in your pocket.  When used on a shoe, they're so light that you can't feel them, even when they're full.   

As we've all recently learned, emergencies can strike anywhere, whether weíre at home or at work, at school, or in the case of the tsunami, even while we're on vacation.  Having the information you need, ready to go when you need it, is a huge step towards keeping yourself and your family safe, no matter what happens.

Making your emergency information visible is just ONE way to keep you and your family safe.  We have many more...

How about Grab it and Go Forms to capture medical history, insurance, financial and vital documents for every member of the family, that can be filled out by hand, or by computer, secured and ready whenever you need them?  Or customizable emergency action plans, home inventory, tips, checklists and  printable wallet cards.   Check out Ready In 10!




Laura and Janet Greenwald, are the founders of The Next of Kin Education Project and Stuf Productions.  The mother & daughter team were not only instrumental in enacting three Next of Kin Laws in California and Illinois, but created the Seven Steps to Successful Notification System, which teaches quick, easy, next of kin notification skills for trauma patients to hospitals like Dallasí Methodist Medical Center. 

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