December 22, 2009

Web-Based Health ID Bracelet Attracts National Attention

A new Web-based system for quickly accessing vital medical information has begun attracting attention on the national stage, according to the Associated Press. 

Taking cues from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the "invisible bracelet" provides emergency first-response teams with critical information on a patient's health history and can even contact loved ones automatically per e-mail or text message.

The iBracelet (no connection to Apple Inc.) "” which started as a private, Oklahoma-based enterprise "” has recently caught the eye of the nationwide American Ambulance Association.  The AAA has been so enthusiastic about the new technology that it will start training its medics on how to use it next month and intends to launch a campaign to encourage people around the country to sign up for the service.

For a paltry five bucks a year, patients who register at invisiblebracelet.org receive a computer-based PIN number on a wallet-sized card that provides emergency medical teams with critical health information and up to 10 emergency contacts.

President of the American Ambulance Association, James Finger, is gung-ho for the new technology and believes that it could fill a critical information gap for first response teams.

"Too many times, we don't have the information to help us treat the patients correctly," said Finger of the daily plight of thousands of ambulance workers.

Finger says that only a fraction of the people who should be wearing medical alert bracelets actually do, often depriving EMS workers of crucial insights into the patient's condition and costing the patient valuable time.

And advocates of the iBracelet contend that it isn't just for the chronically ill "” perfectly healthy individuals who have severe allergies could also potentially benefit, while those who have had accidents and may be unconscious or unable to provide emergency family contacts could also breathe easier.

For years now a debate has been raging in the medical community over finding the proper balance between protecting a patient's privacy and providing health professionals with quick access to vital health information that could potentially save the patient's life.

The new popularity of the iBracelet comes as the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is deliberating just this issue and attempting to establish guidelines delineating which health information is absolutely crucial for first response medical teams to know.

The iBracelet is by no means an entirely novel invention.  Chronically ill patients, such as those suffering from diabetes or heart problems, have for years been able to experiment with various other health information technologies, from basic armbands and wallet cards to key-chain USB drives and even subcutaneous microchips.

One of the key perks of the iBracelet is that it only permits authorized medical experts with their own assigned password to use a patient's PIN number and access his information.  The virtual device also allows the medic to choose the hospital to which the patient will be transported and then automatically notifies loved ones on the patient's contact list per e-mail or text message.

Dr. Andrew I. Bern, Board member of the ACEP, says that with around 100 million people requiring emergency care every year, everyone stands to benefit from giving medical professionals quick access to their health info.

Eventually, Bern says that he would like to see electronic medical records for everyone in the country"”a goal that he concedes is still years away from being realized.

One of the big problems with older methods of providing health information, like wallet cards or physical bracelets with printed information, is that they are often outdated, irrelevant or incomplete.

"You have to be a partner in this whole process, gathering the information," says Bern. "If it's not current [medical information], it's not that useful."


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