Making the Most of Your Medical Bracelet

These 2 Pieces of Information Should Be On It - And Nothing Else

medical alert bracelet
Medical alert bracelets can help--if anybody reads them. Stockbyte / Getty Images

The benefit of medical jewelry is to tell emergency healthcare providers what life-threatening conditions you have when you're unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. If you could speak to us, you would be able to tell us on your own. Maybe you have MS and can become paralyzed or unable to walk.

Medical jewelry -- identification necklaces and bracelets with medical information inscribed -- has been around since 1953.

Paramedics and EMTs aren't always very diligent about checking medical jewelry for information, but we do try. There are all kinds of information put on these somber shiny baubles. So, what kind of information is really necessary? There are only two answers to this question:

  1. Medical conditions that could kill you and also make you unconscious. Diabetes is the most common version of this, but as you'll see below, that one's not really important because it's so common. If your disease is likely to render you unable to communicate with the paramedics and could kill you, putting the name of the condition on your medical jewelry is hugely important.
  2. Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders. There's only one medical treatment so important that it takes a doctor's order not to perform it: CPR. If you have an order not to do CPR on you, you should where something that says just that.

Other than Life Threats

Sometimes the information isn't necessarily going to save your life.

Instead, it might serve to save you money.

If you have a seizure disorder like epilepsy, you might find yourself waking up after a garden variety seizure to the gorgeous mug of an emergency paramedic (to me, all paramedics are beautiful). The first time a person has a seizure, it could be caused by a number of life threatening conditions.

A person with a seizure disorder, on the other hand, might have a few seizures a week and go on about his or her business without a second thought. A paramedic meeting you for the first time won't have any way to know if this your first seizure or your hundredth.

Medical jewelry is one way for paramedics to know that you do indeed have a seizure disorder and you probably don't need to be transported to the hospital. In that case, many paramedics will simply wait for you to wake up from the seizure in order to have a chat with you about how to proceed.

On the flipside, medical jewelry that says you have a brain tumor could indicate that a seizure is a life-threatening event.

So Common It's Unnecessary

It's very common to see medical bracelets with "Insulin Dependent Diabetes" written on them, but to the average paramedic those are completely useless. Diabetes is so common today that paramedics carry glucometers as a matter of course. We check blood sugar levels for hypoglycemia on every unconscious patient as part of our routine assessment.

If there's a diagnosis that doesn't ever need to be on a bracelet, diabetes is it.

Many allergies, like bee stings or food allergies, are also put on medical bracelets. The thing is, it doesn't matter why you're having an allergic reaction. The signs and symptoms are often very similar and so is the treatment. Putting your allergies on a necklace might not help at all -- unless it's an allergy to something we might give you. If you're allergic to latex or a medication, it's a good idea to let us know either verbally or through the jewelry.

What Paramedics Need to Know

Here's a list of information on your jewelry that could really help us help you:

  • Missing organs
  • Rare life threatening conditions
  • Conditions that look life-threatening but aren't (such as a seizure disorder)
  • Allergies or hypersensitivity to things we provide (medications, latex, iodine)
  • Medications you are taking that can cause harm (beta blockers, blood thinners)
  • Do Not Resuscitate order

Likewise, there are common things people wear on their jewelry that we don't really care about.

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Allergies to things we don't provide

It's not that we don't care about these issues. It's the fact that it won't have any bearing on how we treat you. Healthcare providers in emergency settings are trained to rule out certain conditions based on our patients' presentations. We don't need to see it written on a bracelet to know that your blood sugar is low. Instead, we need to do our jobs.

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