Senior woman sitting at table with daughter to organize medical files to be used in case of an emergency.

Emergency Medical Files Can Save Lives

Last updated on October 08, 2021

Millions of seniors experience health emergencies – such as falls, heart attacks, or strokes –that require immediate medical attention every year. In these unexpected and harrowing situations, a comprehensive and readily available “emergency medical file” can be a life-saver.

What is an Emergency Medical File?

An emergency medical file is a centralized document of important health information that details an individual’s medical history, including pre-existing conditions, allergies, medications, and more. This information can be crucial for first responders, doctors, and other care professionals during time-sensitive emergencies. If an emergency medical file is not available, life-saving decisions could be delayed or critical medical errors may happen.

An emergency medical file for seniors should include:

  • Identifying information
    Add a senior’s name, address, and date of birth on the front page. Also, consider including a photo ID, because some hospitals require picture identification to avoid insurance or billing fraud.

  • Emergency Contact information
    A senior’s emergency contacts—including names, phone numbers, addresses, and places of employment—should also be placed near the front of the medical file.

  • Medical information
    Official medical records contain information that helps emergency professionals provide the best treatment. Make sure to include brief summaries of the following:

    • Allergies
      List all allergies, including environmental, dietary, and medications. This will ensure a senior is not exposed to any allergens during treatment.

    • Health conditions and surgeries
    • List any health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. Be sure to include any previous medical events such as a heart attack or stroke and any procedures or surgeries. Include the date of the diagnosis or date of surgery.

    • Medication list or chart
    • Document all medications and supplements, including name, dose, and instructions. Also include the prescribing physician and the condition/reason for the medication.

    • Medical equipment
    • Some older adults use medical equipment, such as a walker, prosthetic limb, insulin pump, or hearing aid. List the medical equipment, manufacturer’s information, how long it’s been used, and for what reason. Also include the name and contact information of the prescribing physician.

  • Doctor information
  • List all health providers, including name, contact information, and location of practice. Add a calendar of past and future visits and any communications with a doctor or medical professional.

  • Insurance information
  • Include a copy of a senior’s insurance card (front and back) to avoid confusion regarding who or how to bill.

  • Advance directives and similar documents
  • Advance directives are legal documents that explain a person’s wishes regarding medical decisions in the event they cannot make decisions on their own. These documents include:

    • Living will
    • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order, if appropriate
    • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)
    • Health care proxy

Who Should Have Access to an Emergency Medical File?

Emergency medical files should be stored in handy locations for paramedics and others to retrieve. Some seniors keep their files in a brightly colored binder that is clearly labeled and placed near the front door or on a coffee table for emergency responders to easily see.

Additional copies can be distributed to family members and the caregiving team, including a professional caregiver. Some seniors and their families prefer to keep these records in a shared online folder or on a portable thumb drive.

Remember, an emergency medical file can have life-saving benefits when seconds count. Start the process of creating this vital document today!

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