MedicAlert Foundation to launch online member portal

Medical emergency information and identification service provider MedicAlert Foundation is building new functionality for its members that will allow them to view and add to the medical and other data the organisation keeps for them in the case of an emergency.

The not-for-profit organisation has also joined the Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) with a view to networking with software vendors to see how information flow can be improved for both members and clinicians.

Part of the international MedicAlert Foundation first established in the US in 1956, the Australia MedicAlert Foundation has been in operation since 1971 and has had more than 300,000 members in its time.

The foundation supplies medical jewellery with the internationally recognised emblem featuring the Rod of Asclaepius enclosed by the words MEDIC and ALERT.

On the rear of the emblem is an engraving of a 24/7 hotline number – which in Australia is run by RDNS SA – as well as a unique member number and pertinent information such as medical conditions, allergies and special needs. The emblem can also advise of advance care instructions.

MedicAlert Foundation has in the past required that a potential member's healthcare professional authenticate the information on member applications, and while this is still highly recommended, it is no longer mandatory.

Sandra Turner, CEO of the Australia Medic Alert Foundation, said the organisation had been working on a member online project for some time, and hoped to have the service available in the next couple of months.

“At the moment a member who joins online does have the ability to order a product online but they still can't check their data, neither can members who joined by other methods,” she said. “From a technical standpoint we didn't want everybody to be accessing the database proper for security reasons, so we've spent a lot of time and effort setting up a system that will be separate to our database.

“The member will be able to call up their own information, and review the current details that we hold on file including the information that they have on their membership card.

“If they want to change or update date anything they will also be able to do so online, but it will still be physically checked by one of our team before it is actioned.

“One of the checks and balances we do have is that if we get a member through without authentication of their health details, we have a practising GP who works with us. She reviews the new member applications and their current medical conditions, allergies and the medications they are on, so that if anything doesn't ring true we go back to the member and clarify.

“We prefer that people get the information from their clinician, like a healthcare summary, and have the doctor to sign the form and then send it back to us – that is the best way of ensuring their data is as accurate as possible – and we do find that members, realistically, want to be responsible for their own health care.”

Ms Turner said that while there were a number of competing product suppliers out there and new smartphone apps coming on the market, the organisation believes the body-worn emblem is still the simplest and the best way to communicate information quickly, especially in an emergency situation.

She said some people with medical conditions keep a USB with pertinent information on their key ring, and a number of smartphone apps as well. However, there are problems with these approaches – not the least of which is the emergence of consumer devices that have dispensed with USB ports, and the potential to lose or leave behind a phone – while a wearable emblem that is recognisable to emergency and other healthcare personnel is still the safest and most tried and tested approach.

“The emblem is significantly recognisable, and the MedicAlert emblem also engenders a great deal of trust in that we have been around since 1971 and we do a lot of continual awareness education so that people recognise us.”

Ms Turner said one of the reasons for joining the MSIA was to begin discussion on how medical software vendors and MedicAlert Foundation can work together to improve information flow. In New Zealand, doctors have access to the NZ MedicAlert Foundation system through their desktop software, though this is unlikely to happen in the near future in Australia.

New Zealand has one very dominant software vendor in Medtech, which has developed the secure personal health portal Manage My Health that patients and their healthcare providers can access, and a simpler primary healthcare system.

In Australia, with a dozen or so commonly used software packages and a different health system, it’s not so easy, but Ms Turner said she was hopeful that discussions could be had with software vendors that were mutually beneficial.

In the meantime, MedicAlert Foundation is also watching the PCEHR progression with interest. Ms Turner believes there will always be a role for a body-worn emblem and the Foundation is always keen to explore ways the emblem can link with new technologies to improve the service the organisation provides to enhance the protection for their thousands of members across Australia.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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