Lessons learned from Joplin

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin has taught medical personnel, first responders and city leaders valuable lessons, including the importance of people keeping theri medical information updated and easiliy accessible in the event of an emergency.

"As we know, many medical records were lost when St. John's Hospital in Joplin took a direct hit from the tornado," said David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management. "Many of the injured that were taken to other hospitals in the region were traumatized from the event and unable to give emergency medical personnel or doctors up-to-date information on what medicines they were taking, in what dosages, or other relevant medical histories."

Compton recommends anyone having medical issues prepare a Vial of Life, which contains a list of medicines, health history and special needs information, stored securely in a large medicine vial, which is then labeled and placed in the refrigerator.

"Many area agencies have sponsored the program at one time or another," Compton said, "but it is easy for people to download the forms and print them from the Internet themselves."

The information includes: the individual's name, address, Social Security number, birth date and other vital statistics; current medical conditions; past medical conditions; current medications and dosages; allergies; the primary care physician's name, address and phone number; preferred hospital; special instructions and health directives; and insurance information. The document also asks for an emergency contact name and telephone number.

"These can be extremely helpful in an emergency," Compton said. "If a patient is unconscious or disoriented, these documents help first responders and medical personnel start immediate life-saving treatment when seconds count."

The Vial of Life should also contain a recent EKG strip, if available, a photo of the individual, and medical instructions such as DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) or instructions as to the use or discontinuance of life-prolonging equipment in the event of traumatic brain injury or death.

"These forms should be updated each time a person has a change in medications," Compton said. "It's important, so medical personnel don't deliver a medication that has been discontinued."

A Vial of Life decal is also available to place on the storage container and on the front door, alerting emergency responders to the presence of the information.

Copies of the information may also be carried in the glove compartment of a person's car in the event of a traffic crash. The car copy can easily be carried in to each doctor's appointment and updated immediately when a change in medicine or treatment plan is ordered.

"In the case of Joplin, these vials would have been a tremendous help for treatment when existing medical records at the hospital were destroyed," Compton said. "These vials are able to speak to medical responders about their patient's condition when the person can't speak for himself."

For more information on the free Vial of Life program, visit www.vialoflife.com or pick up a Vial of Life at the Walmart Pharmacy in Cassville.

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