January 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: On Travel January 1998 Current Issue
January 1998 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel


An Ounce of Prevention

How to handle a medical emergency on the road

If you see yourself as a take-charge traveler, you may think that toting a credit card, having health insurance and knowing how to secure medical assistance means you're covered in the event of a medical mishap away from home. Think again. Here are two steps you may have overlooked that can help prevent complications and ensure that your health care is handled properly.

Tell all. When illness or an accident occurs, speedy and accurate communication of your medical history and current condition is vital. Without it, complications may arise from misdiagnosis and, ultimately, improper treatment.

If you're unconscious or unable to think or speak clearly, how can such information be accessed? Carry a printed card that lists relevant data, such as the numbers of those to be contacted in case of an emergency, including your attorney or business associates, as well as the phone numbers of your physicians and family.

The card should also include your blood type, medications you are taking, any conditions you are being treated for and specific allergies. Carry this information with you at all times and put it in a place where it is easy to find, like right next to your driver's license.

You should carry the printed card even if your medical data is electronically stored on an ID card with a magnetic strip or microchip, which is swiped through equipment that reads the information. If the facility where you are being treated doesn't have such equipment, the information can't always be accessed.

The obvious downside to both the electronic and the self-created cards is that they have to be on your person or in accessible belongings, and they have to be retrieved by whomever is providing assistance. To make that relevant information more readily available, consider wearing a medical identification bracelet or pendant like those offered by Medic Alert (800-825-3785). If you have a disability that is not apparent, a chronic problem or one that could lead to an episode requiring immediate intervention (for example, if you're a diabetic who could go into insulin shock), wearing an identification device can facilitate proper treatment.

Medic Alert offers 24-hour phone access to trained representatives who will provide your medical history (a hard copy also can be requested). The program's $35 application fee includes unlimited updates of your medical profile and an inscribed bracelet or pendant.

What you say goes. Suppose you're unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate, but you aren't dying and you have a viable source for obtaining your medical data. You're receiving the required care from qualified providers in an established medical facility. You've got nothing to worry about, right? Not necessarily.

Medical conditions can change unexpectedly, and choosing medical treatment is not always clear-cut. Having advance directive documents, such as a medical power of attorney (which lets you designate someone to make decisions regarding your medical care if you cannot make them) and a living will (which states your wishes if you are unable to communicate at the end of your life) can be vital.

Completing the appropriate forms for your state and then leaving instructions and forms with a family member or legal representative is one way to ensure that your wishes are honored.

But even if you've had the foresight to prepare such documents, getting them to medical caregivers can be problematic: What if your next of kin or attorney can't be reached? Or if your forms are not readily available? The DocuDial Advance Directives Registry (800-989-WILL) speeds up access to this information by providing members with electronic document storage and retrieval. Copies of your forms are faxed upon request. The one-time registration fee of $55 includes a review of the documents to determine if they meet your state's legal requirements.

You can include multiple forms for different states, if desired. Go to (www.choices.org) for an overview on advance directives, including downloadable, state-specific health-care proxy and living will forms and instructions. Once your forms are on file, you receive a card with the pertinent retrieval information, which you should keep in your wallet. *

Marlene R. Fedin is a contributing editor to Frequent Flyer magazine, a sister publication of M&C. This article was adapted from Frequent Flyer.

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