Text-messaged health history program could save your life

ambulance at nightWe text message to ask spouses to pick up milk on the way home from work. And kids risk their thumbs texting. Not to mention their lives doing it while driving. Now, family members can keep tabs on loved ones' health via text.

In between pushing IV fluids, emergency responders are pushing for the web-based emergency health registry invisibleBraclet.org to gain national momentum.

The virtual medical ID system lets EMS crews rapidly learn a patient's health history during a crisis. That access can provide the information necessary to treat -- and save -- lives. It also allows family members to be immediately notified, via text, that their loved one is headed to the hospital.

The program, which runs $5 a year, originated in Oklahoma and took off when the state's government made it an optional health benefit for its employees.

The service stores basic health information and up to 10 emergency contacts under a computer-assigned PIN number that's kept on a wallet card with your driver's license, on a key fob or a sticker on an insurance card. And although it's not meant to replace them, it's a dutiful companion to medical alert jewelry popular with diabetics, asthmatics and people with other illnesses.

iBracelet is especially appealing to Americans in the "sandwich generation."

"Between keeping track of my two sons who are both attending colleges out of state, and my parents who frequently travel and spend half the year in another state, this would eliminate a lot of worry and stress," says Beth Perry, a 52-year-old teacher in Barrington, Illinois.

Perry and others might not have to wait too long for iBracelet to be widely available. iBracelet's Web site says "regional markets will be launching in March 2010." And in January, the American Ambulance Association will begin training its medics on the program in the hopes it goes nationwide.

This training is timed with the American College of Emergency Physicians deliberations over just how much -- and what type -- of information is the most critical for medics and ER doctors treating emergency patients.

"Too many times, we don't have the information to help us treat the patients correctly," James Finger, president of the American Ambulance Association, the largest network of emergency medical service providers, told the Associated Press.

Protecting your privacy
Only authorized medics can access iBracelet information via a Web site that reads the custom PIN. And in the blink of an eye, the emergency responder chooses the target hospital to transport the patient to while simultaneously alerting the people listed on the patient's notification list via text or e-mail that their loved one is en route to the hospital.

The jury is still out on the program's efficacy, but it is drawing a lot of attention. Nearly 100,000 people have enrolled since the service opened in Oklahoma in April.

There's an app for that
iPhone users can tap into information similar to iBracelet's offering. One application offered for iPhones allows users to keep tabs on everything from a person's blood sugar to doctor's appointments and medication schedules.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance journalist specializing in health, celebrity and consumer issues.
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