Medical-alert jewelry lets high-risk patients access critical data in emergencies

Call it smart jewelry.

We tend to ignore most stories about personal health records because, despite the hype, PHRs haven't exactly caught on with the public. But when Tiffany & Co. comes up with a $2,250 gold medical-alert bracelet, it's newsworthy. When the story hits home for the reporter, as it does for Wall Street Journal health correspondent Laura Landro, we tend to pay more attention, too.

The Tiffany offering is perhaps the poshest example of a new generation of medical jewelry that does more than just carry an engraved name of a particular condition. As Landro reports, there's a whole collection of bracelets, pendants, necklaces and watches hitting the market that direct first responders to a toll-free number or a website, or even send a text message to retrieve critical patient data in an emergency.

"As the recipient of a bone-marrow transplant for leukemia 18 years ago and three related procedures since then, I recently learned the hard way that I should be wearing a medical-identification bracelet myself. One morning in May I ended up in the emergency room after an internal injury resulted in heavy blood loss. When I was told I was going to need a blood transfusion, fortunately I was alert enough that a red flag went up in my head," Landro writes. She needed blood that had been irradiated to prevent a potentially fatal reaction.

"During an annual checkup last month at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where I received my original transplant, I informed my doctors about my emergency transfusion and they suggested wearing a bracelet in the future. Though transplant patients are told after discharge that they should receive only irradiated blood, the center is now formulating a policy to also advise them to wear a medical-alert bracelet." Landro explains.

Many of today's medical bracelets are backed by a subscription service that provides first responders and emergency caregivers with access to potentially lifesaving data. For those not big on the bling, Kaiser Permanente offers a $5, password-protected USB drive for patients in Northern California to carry their personal health records around. We note this because Kaiser already has an extensive EMR to output data to the external record. PHRs not "tethered" to a particular health system--like several products Landro mentions--aren't really worth a mention here. Blame a FierceMobileHealthcare editor who wants to see some proof of widespread acceptance. None exists.

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal story