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Past Medical History Helps First Responders Avoid Mistakes

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What if this were you? You go out to a new lunch spot alone, order food, and eat like any other day. You finish, pay, and begin heading towards your car. Suddenly, you don’t feel good and start to collapse in the parking lot The restaurant sees you on your knees and calls 911, but the first responders don’t know what’s happening. They try to administer something that makes things worse, and things begin to spiral out of control.  You’re dead. This outcome might have been prevented if they had only known your past medical history.

According to the CDC, there are over 130 million emergency room visits annually in the U.S.; on average, 20% end in mortality.  If you have any of the following conditions, you risk a similar outcome.

Chronic Conditions

Blood ClotsBreast CancerCeliac DiseaseCOPDCrohn’s
Cystic FibrosisDiabetesEmphysemaFibromyalgiaHeart Disease
HypertensionHyperthyroidismLupusLymphedemaKidney Disease
Marfan’s SyndromeAdrenal InsufficiencyMalignant HyperthermiaMultiple SclerosisOrgan Transplant
Bleed DisorderStrokeAlzheimer’sAutismDementia
Parkinson’s DiseaseSickle Cell AnemiaDowns SyndromeEpilepsy/ Seizure DisorderDevelopmental Disabilities



Or Are On Any of These Medication Types

ACE inhibitorsAspirinAntidepressantsBeta BlockersBlood Thinners
InsulinSeizure MedicationsStatinsSteroidsSynthroid

To avoid similar medical complications, healthcare providers and first responders must have your past medical history before treatment.  

A personal health record includes your past medical history such as allergies, known diseases, family history, current medications, etc. If you’ve ever wondered why every doctor you see asks you to provide this, now you know the answer. Without it, treatment can be risky and lethal at worst.

Why do I provide my past medical history every time I see a new doctor?

The real questions are: Why do I provide the same information every time I see a medical professional? Can’t they just store it online and make it available to all medical professionals?

Unfortunately, having your past medical history in a ready-to-access form is easier said than done. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), doctors cannot share medical information unless you give them explicit permission to do so. HIPAA restrictions also extend to emergency medical personnel and first responders. How would you know to provide an EMT permission before an emergency? The answer is you wouldn’t.

How does HIPAA impact my ability to share my past medical history?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 is a United States federal statute enacted and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. One of its primary objectives was to ensure all individually identifiable health information remained private and secure. As an adult, HIPAA gives you complete control over who sees your past medical history. No one, not even your immediate family, can access your personal health information without your permission.

On the surface, HIPAA sounds great, but what happens in an emergency when you can’t authorize the release of your past medical history? Unfortunately, HIPAA has made providing your medical information very difficult. HIPAA makes it so that not even one’s own immediate family can access your medical information without permission, let alone emergency medical personnel. What happens when you need someone to know this information but you aren’t conscious or coherent? The answer is they’ll have to work without it.

Is there a solution to this problem?

Short of carrying around your medical records, there is no easy way to provide past medical history. Medical providers ask patients to recreate their records every time they seek treatment at a new facility by filling out forms. Tell me, off the top of your head, what is the exact name and dosage of all your current medications? Don’t know? See the problem yet?

Many people don’t even know the names of the medication they take, yet it is still medically necessary for you to be able to recall every single detail of all medical conditions and medications you take off the top of your head when you visit a new provider. Most people fail to realize that they are gambling their lives when they provide inaccurate or incomplete information.

What’s the risk of a mistake without your past medical history?

People often disregard the severity of this mistake. Emergency care visits are common. 42% of the population visits the emergency room every year. Out of the 130 million visits to the ER annually, 16.2 million will need to be admitted, 2.3 million will need to go to critical care, and over 200,000 will die.

Some solutions to the problem of providing your past medical history have already been developed. Medical Alert Bracelets allow for explicit communication of your various diagnosis(s) on your person. Furthermore, there are apps available that allow you to log and track your medical information. Unfortunately, the adoption of these methods of record keeping remains very low.

Many people simply do not engage with these systems, which is highly concerning considering the risks. The data is plain, and your options are clear; even if you have the slightest chance of having any of the diseases listed above, you should be cautious and protect yourself by any means necessary. This means you need to start by finding or creating an accurate log of your past medical history. This will ensure that you can give any new providers your medical information with absolute certainty. This can be achieved with any medical device, from bracelets to phone apps. Take the time to get a medical bracelet or to download any of the many apps designed to store your medical information so that you can take responsibility for your health and stop playing roulette with your life.