What Should Be on a Medical ID Bracelet?

Medical alert bracelet

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The purpose of medical ID (alert) jewelry—identification necklaces and bracelets with medical information inscribed on them—is to provide emergency health workers with information about any conditions you may have or other concerns that may be relevant to your care in the event you become unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

Medical ID jewelry has been around since 1953. Most emergency responders are trained to look for such a necklace or bracelet when triaging a patient. Some people also get a tattoo or use an app for the same purpose, though these may not referenced as often by health providers.

Important Information to Include

Given that space on traditional medical alert jewelry is limited and emergency personnel need to be able to see the information clearly, you will need to prioritize some details over others.

Confer with your doctor—first about whether or not getting a piece of medical jewelry is a good idea or unnecessary, then about what information to include if you decide to move ahead.

Among important information to consider listing on medical ID jewelry:

  • Medical conditions: Include any chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cardiovascular concerns, diabetes, epilepsy, and so on. In particular, be sure to list any conditions that may render you or your loved one unable to communicate with emergency staff (e.g., seizure disorder) and/or could be fatal.
  • Medications: If you are taking a blood-thinning medication, list it at the top of your medical alert jewelry. This alerts emergency personnel that you could be bleeding internally if you've been injured. Similarly, if you have a severe allergy to a medication, list it so that it is not administered in an emergency situation.
  • Medical devices: For example, if you have a pacemaker.
  • Blood type: In some circumstances (i.e., you have a blood disorder), listing your blood type may also be advisable.
  • If you have transplanted or missing organs: You may be taking immunosuppressant medications, which can make you especially susceptible to infection.
  • Communication/cooperation challenges: Having schizophrenia or autism, or limitations such as being non-verbal or deaf, are a few examples of things you may want to list so that a care team is aware of why you or your loved one may not respond as expected.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders: There's only one medical intervention so important that it takes a doctor's order not to perform it: CPR. If you have a do not resuscitate order—an order not to perform CPR if doing so would be necessary to save your life—you should wear something that says just that.
  • Instructions: Such as "call 911" or the phone number of your emergency contact. This may be useful for bystanders as well.

Replace medical alert jewelry over time if there is a significant change in your medical needs that should be reflected.

The Star of Life

Medical ID items should, ideally, have the medical emblem known as the Star of Life that depicts the snake & staff symbol. This will alert responders that you are wearing a form of jewelry that should be checked in an emergency.

Medical ID Jewelry Abbreviations
Alzheimer's disease ALZ
Type 2 diabetes and on insulin DM2-INSULIN
Atrial fibrillation AFIB
Allergic to sulfa drugs NO SULFA
Kidney transplant recipient KIDNEY TX
You are taking a blood thinner ON BLOOD THINNER
Commonly used shorthand for select medical concerns

Benefits of Medical Jewelry

There are several benefits to wearing medical jewelry. If you're not sure about whether or not to invest in piece, here are a few pros to weigh:

Quality of Care

You are likely to receive quicker treatment when a first responder gets to the scene.

The information you share on your alert may also help guide personnel toward treatments that are not only effective, but safest for you given your health profile. For example, you won't be given a medication you are allergic to.

You're also less likely to be misdiagnosed once you are out of immediate danger and taken to a hospital; having critical health information at the ready can help rule certain diagnoses in or out.

Perspective

Information that could help a paramedic better understand why you are exhibiting signs that you are can help them determine proper next steps.

For example, you might find yourself waking up after a seizure in the emergency room. This is because seizures have a number of life-threatening causes.

But if you have a seizure disorder like epilepsy, you might have a few seizures a week that don't require emergency measures. Wearing medical ID jewelry is one to make paramedics aware of this. With this in mind, instead of rushing you to the hospital, they will likely just wait for you to wake up from the seizure and consult you about how to proceed.

On the flip side, medical jewelry that says you have a brain tumor could indicate that a seizure is a life-threatening event. In that case, the paramedic will transport you to a hospital without delay.

Bystander Response

Medical ID jewelry can also be useful for non-medical personnel who may find you in distress.

For example, the National Institute on Aging recommends that people with Alzheimer's disease wear a piece of identification noting their diagnosis in case they wander and get lost. 

For children with life-threatening allergies, it may be useful to school or camp staff who may not be aware. And for someone with diabetes who goes into insulin shock, a piece of medical ID jewelry can prompt someone witnessing them to provide orange juice or candy.

Lack of Guidelines

While many medical authorities (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) are in favor of patients wearing medical ID jewelry, there are currently no national guidelines—or any that are approved by a medical association or society—that explicitly support the use of medical jewelry or what it should or shouldn't contain.

Companies that sell the jewelry make suggestions and consumers are able to put whatever they want on it. In some cases, this might lead to miscommunication.

Furthermore, while many healthcare professionals are trained to look for medical jewelry, they are under no legal obligation to search for it—particularly if it is not easily visible.

High-Tech Options

Some newer medical ID options solve the problem of limited space by allowing you to keep a record of personal health information on the cloud so that it can be accessed by a QR code, website, or by calling a phone number that gets listed on a necklace or bracelet instead.

On the plus side, this allows you to share more information with your care providers than might fit on a piece of jewelry. It also gives you the freedom to update that information as/if needed. However, given that emergency personnel have to take the extra step of accessing the information, these options can delay their awareness of important details about your health.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that while it may not hurt to list health conditions on medical jewelry, a trained medical professional will rapidly assess a person's current condition (breathing, consciousness, pulse, etc.) without necessarily taking into account specific and preexisting conditions. For instance, if an asthmatic person needs emergency assistance, but the medical professional is unaware of their asthma, respiratory distress will still be evident and treated according to protocol.

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