If you are thinking, save my life, no way. Let me share a story:
In mid-November, my husband got a call that his brother was in an accident while on a motorcycle tour of northern Peru. My husband didn’t remember that he was his brother’s emergency contact. He didn’t have his brother’s itinerary, his insurance information, or his health care records.
This lack of information delayed care. As a result, his brother was treated in a local clinic for a serious health condition rather than in a major hospital setting. Culture and language barriers added to our lack of information on his condition. It took over 2 weeks for his brother to be flown back to the U.S. for treatment. This delay will likely have lifelong repercussions.
This could happen to you.
Your Emergency Contacts – what it means
Whenever you asked to list an emergency contact, you simply fill in the blanks: name, phone number and relationship. You set it and forget it. But, how does an emergency contact protect your health and well-being?
When the unforeseen happens, the first person that medical personnel call is your emergency contact.
- Does your emergency contact have the legal authority to act on your behalf?
- Does your emergency contact have the information required to get you the care you need and/or save your life?
Who are your emergency contacts?
Who are your emergency contacts? Your spouse, your parents, your children, or a friend? Naming someone as your emergency contact creates a responsibility that they may NOT be unable to carry out. Here’s why: most people take no action beyond providing initial contact information to their health care provider or employer. Then, when that urgent call comes, it’s a mad scramble. Your emergency contact likely knows your birthdate and your home address. But, he or she is wholly unprepared to provide all of the following:
- Contacts – A list of family members, friends, co-workers to contact with names, phone numbers and/or email address. Think about who needs to know that you are ill or injured. Who could provide your emergency contact with support?
- Insurance – In order to get care, the hospital or clinic will call looking for your insurance carriers. They will need carrier name as well as policy and group numbers for both primary and secondary insurers. Having a copy of your insurance card(s) makes this quick and easy. If you bought travel insurance, include a copy of that policy or, at a minimum, the carrier name and policy number.
- Doctors – A complete list of your doctors, not just your Primary Care Physician. Medical centers want to keep your doctors appraised of your condition and may need to contact them. Names and phone numbers are a good start for this list.
- Health history – An outline of your medical conditions and/or health history will shortcut treatment and ensure continuity of care. Allergies should be part of this health history.
- Medications – A full list of medications you are currently taking including dose and prescriber.
- Legal Documents – If your emergency contact is not legally designated to make decisions about your medical care, they need to know who is. Providing your emergency contact with a copy of your Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will is the best way to ensure that the appropriate party is in charge of those decisions and that your wishes are followed. Within the U.S., hospitals will ask for this document and, in lieu of it, your next of kin will take on this responsibility.
- Traveling – If you are traveling, your emergency contact needs a copy of your itinerary. If your travel takes you outside the U.S., give him/her your passport number and travel insurance policy number(s). Note if you travel outside the U.S., consider registering in STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in advance of your travel. STEP will keep you informed of safety concerns and help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
The next time you are asked to provide an emergency contact, who will you list? Most importantly, how will you ensure that they are prepared in case of a medical emergency? Remember, your health and your life could depend on it!