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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / CAROL SMITH

Medic Alert Can Be Ticket to Safer Travel

May 15, 1996|CAROL SMITH | Carol Smith is a freelance writer based in Seattle

Business travelers usually have enough on their minds without worrying about what they would do if they had an accident or became seriously ill on the road. Consequently, few travelers bother to take steps to make sure they would get the best possible medical care in an emergency.

Indeed, traveling can exacerbate some health conditions. Changes in climate or altitude, for example, can add stress and cause problems even for people whose conditions are stable at home. Changes in time zones, too, can create havoc by throwing off medication schedules.

Increasingly, though, companies are recognizing they have a vested interest in the health and safety of employees who travel frequently. About 100 companies nationwide have begun offering Medic Alert membership as a corporate benefit.

Many people assume Medic Alert is only for people with chronic, life-threatening conditions such as diabetes or a seizure-causing disorder. But more people are wearing the nonprofit group's medical identification bracelets or pendants these days, and the Turlock, Calif., organization has been stepping up efforts to inform travelers of the benefits of doing so, spokesman Matt Sheridan said. (United Airlines is planning to air a segment about Medic Alert in an upcoming in-flight video.)

"Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye," Sheridan said. "I just got back from New York City, and it was an adventure just trying to cross the street."

Business travelers typically are under a lot of stress, which can make them prone to accidents, Sheridan said. Frequent travel and rushing to meetings increases the chances of them becoming separated from their personal documents through lost or stolen luggage. In a situation where the traveler can't communicate, having a medical ID bracelet or pendant can speed up the delivery of crucial information to a care provider.

Many travelers may not realize that there are seemingly insignificant aspects to their health histories that could be critical in an emergency, said Linda Bernstein, a pharmacist and manager of pharmacy marketing at supermarket chain Safeway, based in Oakland.

For example, to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions, it's important that an emergency medical technician know whether you are on any medications, even aspirin, or if you have allergies. If you're allergic to shellfish, for example, it means you may be sensitive to iodine, which is present in shellfish and is often the true source of the allergy. Iodine is also present in the contrast dyes used in various medical imaging processes, Bernstein said. Or maybe you're allergic to eggs, which are used as a base for some types of medications.

It can even help to point out something as apparently inconsequential as the fact that you wear contact lenses, Bernstein said. If you're unconscious and can't mention it yourself, you risk having the lenses left in and possibly causing eye damage.

Other things that can be important to know in an emergency include the presence of "hidden disorders," such as mental illness or kidney disease; any disabilities, such as a hearing or vision impairment; or any special interests, such as scuba diving or jogging that could result in your being without identification. Such information can provide clues to your ailment when you can't speak for yourself, Bernstein said.

Bernstein has had firsthand experience with the need for quick access to medical records. Her father fainted in a restaurant on New Year's Day several years ago. Even though he was with his family, his relatives didn't know his complete medication regimen and didn't have access to his records. His regular physician was out of town and the office was closed.

"It took quite a while to get all the information we needed," she said. It was the kind of situation in which an organization such as Medic Alert can be invaluable.

Medic Alert maintains the largest computerized medical records depository in the country, President Tanya Glazebrook said. It serves 2.3 million members in the United States and another 2.7 million worldwide. Members list their pertinent medical records, including allergies, medications and existing conditions, along with the name of their regular physician and family contacts.

Medic Alert releases the information only to qualified emergency medical personnel under emergency conditions.

The group charges a $35 application fee and $15 per annual renewal.

For more information on Medic Alert memberships, call (800) 825-3785.

Carol Smith is a freelance writer based in Seattle. If you have any experiences to share or suggestions for Executive Travel, please write Executive Travel Editor, Business News, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax (213) 237-7837; or e-mail business@latimes.com

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