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Importance of emergency identification schemes
  1. L Morton1,
  2. S Murad1,
  3. R Z Omar2,
  4. K Taylor1
  1. 1Imperial College School of Science, Technology and Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Statistical Science, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Sister L Morton, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Bowling Pfizer Heart Valve Research Unit, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN, UK; e-mail:


Background: Millions of people worldwide may have a hidden medical condition that could endanger their life in an emergency. These conditions may include cardiac conditions, severe allergies, or diabetes. Emergency identification schemes such as Medic Alert produce emblems that alert health care professionals to potential problems and can ensure appropriate and prompt treatment. This paper uses mechanical failure of the Björk-Shiley convexo-concave (BSCC) heart valve as an example of a hidden medical condition. These patients have been encouraged to carry information to alert staff in an emergency that they have a BSCC patient in their care and to be alert to the signs and symptoms of acute valve malfunction.

Objective: To establish awareness and credibility of emergency identification schemes among emergency personnel and to assess if information on specific medical conditions would influence ambulance personnel regarding destination hospitals.

Methods: Questionnaires were sent to senior staff (n=380) of accident and emergency (A&E) departments and operational directors of ambulance headquarters (n=39) throughout the United Kingdom. Hospitals were divided into regional divisions to assess differences in responses across regions.

Results: The majority of respondents (99%) had heard of emergency identification schemes and felt that it was important for patients with special conditions to carry some form of identification. Nearly all ambulance respondents (97%) indicated it was routine to search for body worn emblems in contrast with only 71% of A & E staff. However, more than half of ambulance respondents (53.9%) stated information on emblems/cards would not influence their choice of destination hospital.

Conclusions: The importance of how information on pre-existing medical conditions can influence care, is highlighted by the BSCC valve issue, where immediate diagnosis is essential for patient survival. It is vital that all staff routinely search patients for this information and if necessary act upon the information provided.

  • hidden medical conditions
  • emergency identification emblems
  • BSCC, Björk-Shiley convexo-cancave valve
  • OSF, outlet strut fracture

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  • Funding: The Supervisory Panel for the Bowling Pfizer Heart Valve Settlement Funds.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.