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22 Tips to Help You Prepare for a Medical Emergency

Be ready for a crisis at home, at work or on vacation

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En español | A medical emergency can be a frightening, all-too-frequent experience that few people are prepared for. But there are a number of steps you can take in advance to better handle a crisis situation.

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Emergency planning - how to prepare for a medical emergency

Be prepared for medical emergencies. — Stock

Home Safe Home

Make sure all your important health information is readily available. Build in some redundancy: Make duplicates and stow the copies in several easy-to-access places.

  • Add your emergency contacts' information — their home, work and cell numbers — into your own cellphone. Identify it as ICE, which stands for In Case of Emergency, instead of listing it under the person's name. If you have a phone that requires a password to get to your contact list, consider putting emergency information on the lock screen itself (see "How to Put ICE on an iPhone Screen"). Still stymied? Take your cellphone to a store that sells your carrier's product and ask the clerk for help.
  • If you're unsteady on your feet but don't want to wear a pendant to alert a commercial medical service that you've fallen, store your cellphone in a fanny pack that you put on when you get dressed in the morning. In spite of its name, you can wear a fanny pack facing either front or back.
  • Know why your doctor prescribed each of your medications. If you're unsure, ask for a written list with the name of the drug, what medical problem it treats and how much and when you're supposed to take it. Leave one copy at home and carry another in your wallet.
  • Consider an online medical record, such as the AARP Health Record, which provides 24-hour access to your health history. This tool allows you to store and edit personal health information in one secure location and share it with family and friends.
  • If you think you're having a heart attack, call 911 immediately and chew one regular aspirin or four baby aspirin (they taste better) to prevent a blood clot, advises Alex Rosenau, vice president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
  • Post the national toll-free phone number of the Poison Control Center hotline — 800-222-1222 — by each phone in your home. If you think someone may have been poisoned by a medication or household product, you can reach an expert who will provide immediate advice any time of the day or night.
  • Check with your Department of Transportation to see whether your state has a Yellow Dot Program, which is designed to help older automobile-accident victims. Participants fill out a form that asks for vital health information as well as emergency contacts and then put the form in their glove compartments. A yellow-dot decal attached to the vehicle's rear window lets emergency personnel know to look for the documents in a crisis. Nearly half of the states currently have the program.

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