What information do I need to have on hand in case of a medical emergency?

January 5th, 2014

Medical emergencies can happen at any time.  You need to make sure you are protected and prepared.  Here is a list of items to have handy and accessible.

  • Health insurance card/information.  If you go to an ER without one, you will have a lot of paperwork to fill out over the next few months trying to reverse the huge bills you will get.
  • Emergency contact information.  Make sure you have updated phone numbers of local family and friends who will be able to help you.  Do not have their info just on your phone.  What if your phone runs out of batteries?  Create a card with this information and put it in your wallet.  You should also have your neighbor’s information handy.  In cases such as a snowstorm or hurricane, your relatives may not be able to get to your home to feed your pets or gather information that you may have left behind.  If you don’t know your neighbors, get friendly with them.
  • Medical test results.  If you have a chronic condition such as heart disease, include your most recent lab work or EKG result.  You should not be afraid to ask your physicians for copies of your medical tests.  You have every right to get them.  It’s just like your tax returns.  You must keep your own records.  Your doctor’s office may be closed when you have an emergency on a weekend, and most ER doctors don’t have time to hunt down your information.
  • Living will or health care proxy paperwork. It is never too early to think about having this ready.  Not sure what these are?  Here is a link from the CDC describing Advance Care Planning.
  • List of updated medications with dosages and allergies.  Imagine you are having a heart attack and someone is asking you about what medications you are taking and you are trying to remember all 15!  That could be a frustrating and time-wasting endeavor.  Now imagine if you had taken the time to make a list.  You could just hand the list over and be done with it.  Sidenote:  It is often not helpful to just remember the size and shape of the medications.  Many pills are “round, white, with a line down the middle”!  Most providers are not trained to recognize the hundreds of thousands of pill shapes, markings, and colors.
  • Local pharmacy telephone number.  Most medical offices do not use paper prescriptions.  Instead we use “E-prescriptions” where the information is sent to the pharmacy directly.  This saves you the time of having to drop off, wait, and pick up the prescription.  It also improves accuracy, as many pharmacists will tell you it is often hard to decipher the writing on some paper prescriptions.  The medication is ready right after you leave the doctor’s office or emergency room.  You must know the phone number, name, and address of the pharmacy so that your doctor can transmit the prescription to the correct location.