A friend of mine is an usher at our church. Recently, an elderly visitor from out of town experienced some troubling symptoms after the service and asked for help. My friend called 911 on his cell phone and requested emergency medical assistance.
The 911 operator asked my friend to stay on the line and to provide information about the person, including current medications and medical conditions. Apparently the visitor had a history of heart problems and was taking a number of medications but could not remember the details.
Some doctors I work with provide inpatient care in the hospital for patients of all backgrounds. Some are visitors to our community, while others may be followed by doctors in outlying areas. Many doctors provide either ambulatory or inpatient care rather than both. When you need to be hospitalized, the admitting doctor may not have immediate access to your health information.
Health information is something few of us fully understand. Often when we visit the doctor, we can feel overwhelmed by all the details. Part of this is the complexity of today’s modern health-care system. Admittedly, we physicians, with our jargon, are not always the best communicators.
For those with chronic medical illnesses, multiple doctors and multiple medications, the difficulty can be multiplied. Yet accurate information about our health is one of the fundamental variables in whether we receive good health care. Learning to communicate this information is well worth our while. It is another aspect of being a good health consumer.
In an ideal world, with modern technology, our health information could follow us wherever we go – most likely in digital form. Yet, despite the growth in electronic health records systems lately, these systems often do not speak well to one another. There also are privacy and confidentiality issues that may impair the sharing of important health information.
One simple tool is rather old-fashioned and low-tech but goes a long way toward improving our ability to communicate our health information. It is the wallet card.
There is nothing special about the wallet card. It may be a form you get from your local hospital or health-care provider or a simple index card or sticky note. The important thing about the wallet card is the information it contains.
I recommend all patients keep a current list of all their medications, including dosages and the reason for each medication.
It might also be wise to keep a list of chronic medical conditions and a list of medical providers’ names and numbers on the back.
Then, the next time you have an unexpected health need and someone asks about your health status and medications, you can point to your wallet or purse. You never know, it might just save your life.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a
board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.