Nov 15, 2009

Should I Get A Medical Alert Bracelet? (Upselling Healthcare)

A question from WarmSocks:

When should someone wear a medical alert bracelet? Nobody has ever recommended that I should consider it, but my med list seems awfully long so I'm wondering if it would be appropriate?
The purpose of the alert bracelet is two-fold:
  1. To provide vital information in an anticipated emergency.
  2. To make money off of people with illnesses.
Should I wear a bracelet? Do you have a condition likely to cause you to be found unconscious, and have something about you that would make your care different than the average unconscious person? You should probably carry a brief list of your medical conditions and medicines, but most of those things don't require a bracelet.

These bracelets are marketed to people with things like insulin-dependent diabetes or heart rhythm problems. The bracelet basically says, "This is likely the reason I'm unconscious and this is what to do!" I've seen a lot of diabetics and heart patients with such bracelets, but I've never seen these bracelets make much difference. Paramedics always check blood sugar and heart rhythm as soon as they find you in such situations, so in my experience people with and without these bracelets get about the same care.

The best reason I can see for a bracelet is a rare condition that rescuers aren't going to be thinking about. Diabetics need not worry—we check a sugar on everybody that's unconscious, bracelet or not. (Other reasonable situations to have a bracelet would include: severe anaphylactic reactions to medicines or if you don't want to be resuscitated if your heart stops. )

The second reason for bracelets is to stimulate the economy. The healthcare industry is massive and you—the patient—are the cash cow. If you stop consuming all the medical accessories and extras then the Healthcare economy might shrink! Proven, effective care can be a narrow margin business, but all the physical and pharmaceutical accessories that you see marketed keep the Healthcare Business healthy even in lean times.

If you call a bracelet company they will say that your daily aspirin or history of ankle sprains should definitely qualify you for a bracelet. "Let's bill your insurance, and for a bit more you can get a stylish 14 K gold band for it!"
Your doc should be able to tell you if your condition really needs a bracelet or not.
But be careful if you doc is offering bracelets or any other "value added" products in their office for your convenience! With Primary Care profit margins razor thin, a lot of doctors are going over to the darkside and letting corporations talk them into adding "secondary income streams" to their practice. If your doctor is selling something (bracelets, supplements, skin rejuvenation, etc.) other than medical care you should run the other direction. Your doctor should be an advocate for you, not the spokesperson for some product line.
Is Doctor D may be alone in his righteous anger about MDs who sell extras in their practices? D was highly offended when Little D's doctor was selling vitamin products at the clinic. Mrs. D told Doc D to quit being a pinko Commie and accept that capitalism works this way. Do you mind if your doctor makes extra by selling products?


WarmSocks said...

Thank you for another great answer.

For one of my pregnancies, I had an ob pushing pyramid-scheme vitamins. I wondered if I'd get lesser care for not buying, or better care if I did make a purchase. I never bought; he never showed up for the delivery. Cause-and-effect, or coincidence? It might be okay if approached differently than my doc did it.

Dani said...

I don't know. Part of me says the convenience would be nice. Like a one stop kind of thing, but I'm not easily talked into things so I could avoid buying them pretty easily.

I would be turned away if more than half of a visit was spent trying to sell me something, which happened at one of my brother's dermatologist visits.

Doctor D said...

Wow, it sounds like this problem is worse than I thought! I was just upset by Little D's clinic having little displays and purchasing options. Some MDs are really getting into the salesman act!

Using visit time to try to sell products and pyramid schemes even borders on fraud. You paid for the doctor's time so you should get honest time not advertisements.

It gets very ethically murky when healthcare products are in the office, because you don't know if the doctor is plugging it because it is honestly a good choice or because it helps the clinic's bottom line. Heck, the doc probably doesn't know half the time either. He tells himself vitamins and bracelets are good and his recommendations have nothing to do with the 30K a year they add to the practice. Sure, whatever.

This is why I hate going to the Vet. The vet always recommends a lot of costly stuff for my dog that he just happens to sell in his office. I never know if it is really necessary for the dog's health or just for the clinic's financial health. I usually don't get most of it. Am I endangering my pet or just a smart consumer? I never know.

I've known a few good docs that sell stuff out of their offices, but I still recommend staying away from doctors that need to make money off you with anything other than doctoring.

Anonymous said...

I have three medic alert bracelets -- one for everyday, one for casual going out, and one for "dress up"

I need these for a rare autoimmune disorder that requires special attention when any type of surgery or stitching are required. I'm also deathly allergic to some medications.

Medic alert bracelets are needed by many people.

Helen said...

I wear a bracelet with information about my ICD and my heart rhythm problem. I don't really ever expect it to do anything, but my Dad (who also has an ICD) had a "storm" of six defibrillation shocks last summer, all of which were inappropriate. If anything like that happens, and I'm not up to communicating what's going on, I have the bracelet.

I also got it because I live on my own and travel on my own a fair bit. I feel a little better having something that can speak for me if no one else can - but at the same time, I know if I'm lying unconscious somewhere, paramedics are most likely going to SEE that I have an ICD scar and know that something is going on with my heart.

Beach Bum said...

I wear a metal ID around my neck, mostly because I live alone, and travel a lot. The ID directs the finder to a website with some contact info for next-of-kin, ect. There is some medical info (I'm an opera singer, so please don't damage my cords if you have to intubate me, etc.), but it's mostly for ID purposes as opposed to being actually useful in the event of an emergency.

MLee said...

I agree that some with rare conditions or some major allergies need these bracelets. However, I do not think that every condition needs a bracelet. I had a doc try to convince me that i needed one for EDS and I do not have the vascular variant. So personally, if I am unconscious, It really does not matter to me if I have dislocated something, I am sure any medical and most non medical would notice. :)

Anonymous said...

I guess I wouldn't mind if my doctor sold health products in her office. I'd figure that she at least feels they're useful.

On the other hand, it might annoy me, too, since my doc makes a much better living than I do, and while I don't know how much money she makes from her patients, it seems sort of, I don't know, slimey to try to get us to send her chihuahua to college, too...

OK. No. I wouldn't like it at all if my doc started selling health products in her office. Yuck.

Great post, though. Thanks.


Doctor D said...

I should clarify that I'm not opposed to alert bracelets. As mentioned in the post there are a lot of great reasons to wear them.

Sorry if my frustration with doctors who sell "extras" you may or may not need sounded like irritation at bracelets or braclet wearers.

Anonymous said...

I think doctors should sell items ONLY if it means that they strongly recommend them AND they are difficult to obtain and so are being offered solely as a convenience to patients. A sign indicating they are being sold at near-cost would be nice. But I've never seen this, only doctors hawking dubious weight-loss supplement programs.

Helen said...

I don't know if there is really an equivalent to this in Canada. I've never had a doctor try to sell or even mention other therapies or items I could buy.

I think it would frustrate me greatly if my doctor was trying to push merchandise on me, whether it was a bracelet or anything else.


Our General Practitioners(family medicine) never sell us stuff, anything at all. Im glad we don't have this pressure.

In my case I have one for drug reactions.

However I should have it replaced because people with a Urinary Diversion such as mine (which is small, tiny compared to other stomas) may be inadvertently catheterised urethrally while unconscious, When we don't have one.
This can be very dangerous if left undiscovered as the Neobladder can perforate if left in a retentive state.

Anonymous said...

um wrong. I worked in the medical field and ER. These things SAVE lives. People who can't speak for themselves; these speak for THEM. Drug allergies, special needs patients etc.

Prompt diagnosis is critical to effective treatment. Cashcow seriously? These can cost as little as $10.

Anonymous said...

I never thought about pushing extra stuff as being a sign of a kinda greedy doctor, but I luckily my endocrinologist must be pretty honest. He told my mom (diabetic) that she doesn't really need one, but that I (Addison's disease) definitely do. This makes sense in light of this article. Thanks!

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