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MedicAlert information accessible online in Nova Scotia's ambulances

Paramedics in Nova Scotia (NS) have been able to access patients' MedicAlert information via their onboard laptops since 2009 and it is paying off.  The link enables them to see critical patient data such as allergy warnings, medication lists, physicians' names and emergency contacts.

Jon Humes is a paramedic with Emergency Health Services, a division of the NS Department of Health and Wellness. He has been using the online MedicAlert service since it became available. "The extra information is particularly vital when it comes to people with allergies, diabetes and dementia," he said. MedicAlert is an organization that provides emergency medical information about its members to emergency responders and health care professionals. Members wear bracelets or other identification (ID) items that carry their identification numbers as well as key data about their medical conditions.

"When we pick up patients, if they can't give us any information about their condition or the medications they take, there could be complications," he said. "For example, if an elderly person is taking Coumadin, a blood thinner, and has a head injury, he or she could have a brain bleed. The sooner we know about the medication, the faster this can be treated. If they have a MedicAlert bracelet, it can be a life saver."

While the information on the ID item is often enough for the paramedics to act on, when more information is required they can use the member number on the back of the ID item to download the patient's profile and insert it into the patient record. This information is printed from their laptops upon arrival at the emergency room and given to the attending staff.

"Our main concern is patient safety and the MedicAlert patient profile helps us ensure the information we have is as accurate as possible so informed decisions can be made about care," he said.

Dr. Andrew Travers, provincial medical director for the government's Emergency Health Services division, said the MedicAlert data can serve as a guideline for emergency room staff. "Having the medications list right away or knowing about a chronic health problem up front helps us to provide better care sooner," he said. "Sometimes a patient may appear to be having a heart attack when in reality it is a drug interaction." Overall, he said, having MedicAlert information available helps improve outcomes and reduce the time spent in emergency care.

MedicAlert President & CEO Robert Ridge is optimistic about making this program available outside of Nova Scotia. "We look forward to expanding this unique service across Canada as the next evolution of a highly successful medical alerting program from MedicAlert." The registered charity is already in talks with other jurisdictions and hopes to have a plan of action in place by 2012.

Canada Health Infoway and the NS Department of Health and Wellness provided the funding for this project. A study published in 2010 showed that 42 per cent of the province's ambulances had used the MedicAlert link. It is now part of the standard emergency health services in the province.

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by Infoway

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