Why aren’t you wearing your medical I.D?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

In online heart disease community forums out there, it’s not uncommon for this discussion question to pop up:

“Should I be wearing some type of medical I.D. since my cardiac diagnosis?” 

The answer, of course, is: YES! – unless for some insane reason you don’t want emergency responders to know about your pre-existing condition or how to contact your next of kin during a medical crisis.

Some women insist, however, on excuses like this:

“But I already carry a neatly typed list of all my medications, my doctor’s phone number, my blood type, my hamster allergy, and my hospital Jell-O flavour preference inside my purse!”

Trust me (as I like to tell such I.D.-averse women): no paramedic or Emergency Department staffer is going to start rummaging into the bowels of that hockey bag-sized purse of yours when they’re otherwise madly occupied trying to, oh, let’s say . . .  save your life.

Chances are, however, that the first person to come across you if you’re alone and in medical distress won’t be a professional first responder, but a passing stranger.

What they will look for first is either a special I.D. wrist bracelet or dog tag necklace that can speak for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.

I asked Tom Bouthillet for his opinion on this. Tom’s a former fire captain/paramedic in South Carolina. He told me:

”   Yes, we absolutely look for medical alert tags, particularly when we have a patient who is out in public by themselves and unconscious.

“If you have a patient who was operating a motor vehicle, for example, and has hit a tree, unconsciousness is highly suggestive of a head injury, so a medical alert tag might let us know that the patient is a diabetic who is actually suffering insulin shock.

“My stepdaughter has a history of brain tumors and seizures. Her medical alert tags let any physicians know that hemianopsia (decreased vision or blindness in half the visual field of one or both eyes) is a normal finding for her.  This was especially important when she was a child and unable to explain her medical history.

“Critical drug allergies are also very important. We wouldn’t want to inadvertently cause harm to a patient.”

A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece called The Jewelry Prescription.

Medical alert symbolDr. Alfred Sacchetti, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told the Journal that he often encounters patients in the E.R. with complex medical conditions who say they were never told by their physicians that they should wear a medical I.D. bracelet. He warns:

“Anyone with a medical condition that would not be obvious to medics or doctors if they were unable to communicate should consider some form of medical identification program.”

Like Bouthillet’s stepdaughter, Dr. Sacchetti’s own daughter wears a MedicAlert bracelet that helps inform first responders what her medical issue is NOT. 

Her “Heart Disease” bracelet contains important information that, in the event of an emergency, lets first responders know instantly that her heart rate, which might not sound normal, is actually normal for her.

In fact, there is a growing interest in I.D. bracelets that simply say “No known medical conditions or allergies” so that medical treatment won’t be delayed in an emergency.

Tom Bouthillet describes another useful patient information initiative that his own first responders implemented. It’s called the “File of Life” program.  It’s particularly important for seniors, he says, who often don’t remember their entire medical history or the names of their medications.

  “We created small magnetic folders that hang on the refrigerator that contain the patient’s name, date of birth, social security number, medical history, allergies, medications, and emergency contact info.  A sticker on the front door lets us know to check the refrigerator door.  The program has been very successful.”

Keep in mind again that the first to come to your aid during a health crisis may not be medical personnel at all, but a passerby out on the street who can relay the information on your I.D. tag directly to the 911 dispatcher.

The Wall Street Journal interview included this wise additional tip from an E.R. physician:

“I ask patients to enter their medical information including medications and allergies in the “I” section of their phone’s address book (for ICE: “In Case of Emergency”).  This is well-known to paramedics. If you can, also enter your medical conditions, closest family member to call, and doctors’ names. I have had this help more than once.”

What are the basics that should be immediately visible to responders?

Coronary artery disease patients who are still taking anti-platelet medications like Plavix, Brilinta or Effient after having had stents implanted must carry a clear warning like: “Do Not Stop _____” (insert name of your anti-platelet meds)

If possible, your medical I.D. tag should also be engraved with your name, your hometown (in case you are traveling when that fateful collapse strikes you), your date of birth, your major medical condition or any serious allergy, and current contact information to reach your next of kin.

Most medical I.D. companies also offer, for a nominal annual fee, the option of including a chip, a link to a secure website, a text message or toll-free phone number to retrieve the full medical or prescription drug history of any patient who is unconscious or otherwise unable to talk about their condition.

Some companies, like American Medical ID, offer a flash drive in a dog tag-style pendant that can be engraved with basic medical information and also loaded with all of the patient’s medical records.  IMPORTANTUPDATE:  Since this blog post was first published, I’ve had feedback from paramedics and ER staff who warn that because of computer security concerns, a growing number of facilities will NOT allow staff to insert a patient’s USB flash drive into hospital/ambulance computers.

For those who can’t or don’t like wearing metal bracelets or necklaces, consider the options offered by Road ID. This father-son business started in 1999 while Edward Wimmer (the son) was training for his first marathon. One day, he went out for his regular run carrying no personal identification when he experienced a frightening near-collision with “a black King-Kong-sized pickup truck.”

(This is, sadly, very common in the running community; when I was a distance runner, like Edward, I would often head out the door for my training runs carrying only my house key tucked into the pocket of my shorts. NOTE:  Very bad idea!)

Together, Edward and his father, Mike Wimmer, started Road ID*, which produces affordable, comfortable, latex-free silicone medical I.D. bracelets with engraved metal tags (I own these in several interchangeable band colours!) as well as reflective nylon wrist, shoe or ankle tags and other practical waterproof safety gear.

A longtime nurse in Emergency told me that staff there do a quick head to toe scan of unconscious patients for medical I.D: wrists, neck, ankles and shoes (shoe tags are common among kids, especially young ones) and that no particular  location on the body is more common than another. But she added:

”    Please, please, PLEASE get something that is clearly a medical alert tag. Small bracelet charms that are among other charms are very easy to overlook.”

Remember that, ultimately, what your identification looks like may be  less important than the fact that crucial information about you is readily available to first responders in case of emergency.

One of the best reasons for wearing a visible piece of medical identification – other than optimizing the speed at which emergency personnel can decide what to do with you – may well be your own family.

As one woman newly converted to the joys of wearing medical I.D. 24/7 explained:

“The main advantage is the piece of mind it gives my husband and family.”

Still not convinced to wear clearly visible medical identification on your body at all times?

Consider Road ID’s Edward Wimmer’s observations after his near run-in with that truck:

“What if that truck had hit me? I would have been rushed to the local hospital as ‘John Doe.’ Without proper I.D., family members and friends could NOT be contacted.

“Likewise, my medical records could NOT be accessed at the hospital. How long would I lay there unidentified? This freaked me out!”


* NOTE: Mentioning Road ID by name does not constitute a personal product endorsement

Q: Are you wearing your medical I.D. 24/7?  If not, why not?.

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about practical steps new heart patients must take in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease . You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use the code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

42 thoughts on “Why aren’t you wearing your medical I.D?

  1. A medical ID bracelet is something you wear on your wrist to alert people to your medical condition. Medical professionals look for them in an emergency.


  2. Know where I can find one that is certified nickel-free? I have a nickel allergy and cannot wear stainless steel or sterling silver, which is most of what I see out there. But I have three medical conditions that require an ID tag. I’ve looked all over the internet to try to find one that I can wear, but have not seen one within maybe $50. I can’t afford too much more than that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Crystal – I do know that Road ID carries bands with removeable engraved surgical stainless steel info plates that clip on; my understanding is that surgical-grade stainless steel may contain some nickel, but it’s generally considered hypo-allergenic for most people – but contact Road ID directly to double-check with them specifically. Definitely under $50.
      Good luck – take care, stay safe… ♥


  3. Do you know of any programs that offer a free or very low cost medical ID? I cannot work and do not have the resources to purchase an ID. I’m sure others are in the same situation and it would be nice for those of us to be able to have that identification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Kathleen – there are only a few sources of free medical ID bracelets (for example, if you are living with diabetes, or if your local hospital provides these to their patients) – just make some phonecalls in your local area to see if these are available. There are some sources of free medical ID wallet cards that you can print off yourself and carry with you at all times. A Google search of ‘free medical ID’ reveals quite a few options.


    1. Hello Gin – I’d advise making or ordering a wallet card for sure (but make sure all coworkers and boss know in advance that this exists and is in the wallet in case of emergency). It may also be possible to get the kind of wrist ID that is not made of dangly metal that could be caught in equipment/machinery but is more like a snug wrist band e.g. check here for many examples of styles.

      There are two kinds of safety risks to consider: a bracelet/necklace that interferes with workplace safety, and then there’s what happens if a man does not have ANY medical I.D. to speak for him when unable to communicate during a crisis.


  4. Yes make sure to get yours and make sure to wear them every time you go outside. I have a traditional looking one so when the time comes when i couldn’t speak for myself, all the first responders can easily spot the bracelet. The new and decorative ones are good and all, but I’d rather have the true function of a medical ID bracelet than be fashionable. I got mine at https://www.medicassist.com/. They’re pretty affordable and durable as well. Also, I keep a medical ID wallet card on me just in case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right, Kenneth! These are life-saving medical aids, NOT fashion accessories, as that Emergency nurse had warned me – “no small bracelet charms among other small charms!” We don’t want to make emergency responders have to waste valuable minutes fumbling through what looks like jewelry when they are looking for medical identification. I put mine on automatically every morning after the shower, and leave it on ALL day, inside or out (in case I’m alone at home if I’m found unconscious).


  5. At the beginning, I wasn’t wearing my medical ID bracelet 24/7, but one day I decided never to put it off. So it’s here today and always. Thanks for this reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am trying to find a medical alert bracelet or dogtag necklace that lists all my medical issues; here is my list. No CPR (I do not have a sternum), Type 2 Diabetic, Asthmatic, Quadrouple Heart Bypass, Osteomylitis, no NO or Sticks in Right Arm due to Blood Clots. I have been searching for a necklace or bracelet that is real sterling silver or real gold that is not very expensive. The regular ones I can buy at a regular store turn me green and even black within 3 days.


    1. Hi Jennifer – I’m not sure you will be able to actually find real gold or real sterling silver that’s “not very expensive”. That’s the thing with real gold and real silver – it’s far more expensive than the cheap metal that makes your skin turn green! You might find it cheaper (and certainly more gentle on your skin) to look at sites like Road ID that have silicone bracelets (in several colours) or try Googling ‘designer medical ID’ for items made from attractive beads, or ‘nickel-free medical I.D.’

      Your long list of conditions/medical history is likely too long to have engraved on your average medical I.D. metal plate. There are a number of ways to address this amount of info, including Emergency I.D. wallet cards (you’d just need to engrave: “See Wallet Card” on your wristband). Good luck to you…


    1. Absolutely! My understanding is that Schwannomatosis is a very rare genetic condition that may require pain management. Your medical ID would be able to speak for you to inform Emergency staff about your condition if you were ill or unable to communicate yourself.


  7. I have borderline Long QT and have recently been unwell with doctors struggling to figure out what exactly is wrong. Having been to the hospital 3 times in 3 weeks, with all being emergencies, I decided to alert some members of this for future reference. I was asked why I wasn’t wearing a medical bracelet and whilst I have thought about this, no medical staff have ever raised this issue. Should I need one?


    1. YES you need one! Especially with an arrhythmia condition like Long QT where fainting is a common first symptom, thus you may not be able to speak for yourself when emergency help arrives. Order a medical ID today!


  8. Hi Carolyn,
    I received news of my final diagnosis (after 6 months of tests and 3 different cardiologists) of non-ischemic dilated cardiomyopathy. I have left bundle branch block and was told I needed to let medical personnel know I have it so they won’t panic seeing it on the EKG. I also have a lowered ejection fraction (39) and my QT interval tends to be prolonged.

    I am only 32 years old and have two sweet little girls who are very much “momma’s girls”. The doctors haven’t told me that I am at risk for sudden cardiac death but because of my electrical issues it is a very real worry for me. I am looking to get a medical alert i.d. But am not sure of how to have it all worded. Can you offer suggestions?

    Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all, congratulations on finally getting a diagnosis, Sara! I’m not a physician so can’t advise you on specifics of your Medical ID, but since you’ve been told that medical personnel need to know about your Left Bundle Branch Block, that diagnosis seems important to include. I have two “in case of emergency” family phone numbers engraved on my own bracelet (from ROAD ID). Ask your physician if there’s anything else that needs to be there. Best of luck to you…


  9. To me this is an interesting topic. I was diagnosed 2 years ago with dilated cardiomyopathy with LV Compaction. When I asked my Dr last year how he felt about a medical bracelet, he said I don’t need one and that it would only cause more stress seeing this “illness” everyday. Dr also said you can tell them you have a device should an emergency occur.

    But what if for some reason I was unconscious? Now after more bloodwork, I was told that I also have an autoimmune disease.

    Now is it time for a bracelet? Who knows?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello June – I’m guessing that a medical I.D. bracelet wouldn’t be your only reminder that you have heart disease. Does your doctor think you’d somehow forget all about that diagnosis unless you glanced at your bracelet and got “stressed”? If you are conscious during a medical crisis, emergency staff will ask you direct questions without searching for your I.D. If you’re not, that’s exactly when your I.D. can speak for you.


  10. We live in a motorhome. 99% of the time, no one on the planet knows where we are. We got the RoadID bracelets, and never take them off. If you need it, they have a service where EMTs can call in with your pin (which is on the tag) and get more data than can be inscribed on the tag. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told that hospitals will not load a flash drive due to fear of malware on the drive. Have you heard this?

    After reading accounts of what happens to your purse and your phone in catastrophic car accidents, I’m a firm believer in having identity information firmly attached to me.

    Thanks for this post, it’s an important thing to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Allison – that’s such a compelling visual of the purse/phone going missing during a car accident (yet your medical I.D. will remain securely on your wrist no matter what happens). Just today I read on an online diabetes community site that in such an accident, low blood sugar symptoms in diabetics can be mistaken for intoxication unless first responders can find out immediately about the actual diagnosis. Haven’t heard about the malware scare but will see if I can find out. Thanks Allison.


  11. I have a 14k gold medical bracelet so do not have to purchase another. I do have to update my medical information.
    I am a Canadian citizen and I wish to receive information based on laws from my own country.

    Thank you,
    L. Mcintyre


  12. Hi Carolyn,
    This is just such excellent advice & is something I’ve been advocating ever since my diagnosis. It should be incorporated in to the “Heart To Heart” program which I try to mention on my own as it’s not part of the course.

    I hope you are doing well & enjoying this beautiful stretch of good weather. I know I’m sure capitalizing on it as much as I can.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to hear from you, Nora! I agree – this advice should be mentioned to all heart patients, yet clearly it is not. Thanks for doing your part at your H2H groups! And yes I’m loving our West Coast summer so far – it’s perfect!


  13. Excellent info. I’m fortunate to only have one medical condition – high blood pressure – and it is controlled by medication. I’ve never thought of getting a medical ID for this. Do you think I should?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Deborah! Yes I do. In case you’re injured/unable to speak during a medical emergency, first responders will be aware that your high blood pressure is a pre-existing condition. A simple ID tag that says “HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, on ___” (name of drug) with your name and next of kin contact might help you some day. Hope you’ll never need it but you never know . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I have a medical ID bracelet, it lists all my medical conditions, but not my medications and contact info. I will definitely be looking at the flash drive you mentioned. I think coumadin is also a really important medication to list.

    Thanks so much for your great articles and excellent writing skills!

    Napa, California


    1. Hi Rachel – that flash drive option can list meds or complex health info that won’t fit onto a single engraved tag. Be aware, however, that a growing number of hospitals will NOT insert a patient’s flash drive into their computers because of security concerns.

      One medical I.D. provider told me that one of the most common notifications they are requested to engrave on their bracelets is the phrase “On Coumadin”. On my own Road ID bracelet tag, there’s room to have my name, date of birth, city, medical condition and two next of kin names/phone numbers engraved. Small but powerful . . .


  15. Great article. I took my bracelet off one day for some reason and just realized, I never put it back on. It is now back on my wrist where it belongs.

    Thank you for the very important reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My friend Liz has a lovely one she wears around her neck rather than a bracelet. Perhaps when she reads this blog (as she always does) she can share the info on where you can get one in Canada and the info she has on hers.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Hello. Liz here. I have a gold-plated, medical alert medallion that I purchased in 2011 from the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation for $100.

            It is my jewellery that I wear day and night!!! I can display it or cover it up. I can wear it in the swimming pool or the shower. This disc did not include the chain (I had my own chain). However, discs, bracelets, etc. are available for under $20 in other materials. I pay a yearly fee (approximately $25) to be a member of MedicAlert. My member number and the 24-hour emergency hot line, collect telephone number for MedicAlert are engraved on the disc. My two heart conditions are engraved on the disc. It is your choice what you put on the disc (in discussion with the MedicAlert office staff who are very helpful and very knowledgeable).
            Canadian MedicAlert Foundation
            2005 Sheppard Avenue East, Suite 800,
            Toronto, Ontario M2J 5B4
            1-800-668-1507 (416) 696-0267

            Liked by 1 person

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