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Ensuring Patient Safety in an Emergency Situation

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Imagine this scenario: Someone is lying on the sidewalk, having a seizure or unconscious. A passerby calls 911. An ambulance soon arrives and the EMTs need to know which medications this person is taking so that they don’t give them something that could cause complications.

Similarly, in an emergency room, attending physicians must quickly determine treatment to save someone’s life, but without critical medication information, a treatment that is supposed to save them, could become fatal. This leads to the question:

What options are available to protect the patient in an emergency?

While some who have a chronic condition wear a medical ID, this is not extremely common. Some doctors guess that as few as 10 percent of the population who should wear a medical ID actually do so. But if a patient in an emergency is wearing one, it doesn’t tell the full story – there may be a number of conditions along with medications that can’t all fit on a medical ID tag.

When patients or their family members are unable to provide vital medical or prescription information, medical staff are forced to make decisions based on incomplete data.

While an electronic health record (EHR) can store all information about a patient, is accessible to other health care providers, and shows data to any number of providers beyond one office – this information is often not enough. Medications might be listed, but there is no way of knowing whether or not a patient is filling and taking prescriptions as prescribed.

Especially in an emergency situation, the information available in an EHR might not be readily available. In addition, providers need to be able to quickly communicate about a patient – which is something that’s not available in an EHR.

In an ideal world, a medical professional would instantly have the patient’s 12-month medication history through a shared database.


What’s Needed for Patient Safety in an Emergency?

Access to Critical Medication Information

Up to 26% of readmissions are medication related – and could be prevented if the necessary information were available. When patients have multiple doctors with different providers, obtaining medical information from multiple sources in a matter of a few minutes can be challenging.

In the past, and even today, doctors often have to obtain information by phone or even fax, which may be a slow process that’s also not HIPAA compliant.

If an EMT or doctor needs to make a life-saving decision to give medication to a patient, they must know the patient’s medical history, including prescriptions and whether or not they are being regularly taken by the patient, in a matter of only a few minutes. 

Access for Many Medical Professionals

The information an EMT can see, likely on an app through a mobile device, should be consistent with the information a nurse or doctor will see once the patient arrives in the emergency room.

Patients may also be transferring between hospitals or even from an emergency room to the hospital. In these situations, consistent and reliable information is vital to ensure that a patient isn’t given a medication that will cause complications or may be life threatening.

It’s crucial that no time is lost between when the patient arrives, but this might be the case if multiple medical professionals need to take the time to confirm a patient’s medication history, especially if the patient is unable to respond to questions in their current state.

Decisions Based on Reliable Information

In addition to the need for easily accessible information for everyone from an EMT to doctors, is that the information must be reliable.

Even if a provider has a list of medications, there isn’t a way to know if the patient has been taking prescriptions as they are listed. For example, research shows that not only are 20-30% of prescriptions never filled, but approximately 50% of patients don’t take their medications for chronic diseases. A system that can show not only a list of medications, but also if the patient is picking them up and taking them is an important step to ensuring patient safety.

Whitepaper: Medication Management Challenges and Opportunities for Payers and Providers


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