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August is MedicAlert Awareness Month

black and white photo of Dr. Marion Collins founder of MedicAlert Foundation

“I think I can save more lives with MedicAlert than I ever can with my scalpel.”

- Dr. Marion Collins, MedicAlert Founder

 

August is National MedicAlert Awareness Month. Founded in 1956, MedicAlert Foundation is recognized for developing the first national medical ID system. It all started with the simple idea that sharing critical medical information in an emergency could save and protect lives. That idea has since grown into a multinational organization, saving and protecting lives for over 64 years. ⁠

Our Story

In 1953, a 14-year-old girl cut her finger, deep enough to need stitches. When she arrived at the hospital the attending physician took the normal course of action, administering a shot of tetanus antitoxin. The girl went into anaphylactic shock and nearly died. Fortunately, she survived the incident, and three days later returned home unharmed. 

That girl was Linda Collins, daughter of Dr. Marion and Chrissie Collins of Turlock, CA. Dr. Collins knew he needed to find a way to communicate Linda’s potentially fatal allergy in an emergency. Whenever Linda traveled, he attached a paper bracelet to her wrist listing her allergies, to avoid a recurrence of the incident that almost killed her.

When Linda went away to college in 1956, Dr. and Mrs. Collins realized that they needed to do even more to protect their daughter. They began thinking about a more durable solution. Dr. Collins commissioned a jeweler to create a medical identification bracelet for Linda. He chose an emblem with the staff of Aesclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and engraved Linda’s allergies on the back of the bracelet. At college, Linda’s bracelet drew a lot of attention. That’s when a father’s simple idea to protect his daughter from a potentially fatal allergy changed the course of the medical world.

As a physician, Dr. Collins knew that people with chronic medical conditions needed a way to communicate their information in an emergency. He quickly saw that a medical ID could be a life-saver for people with severe allergies – but also for many other conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, seizure disorders, dementia.

Dr. Marion and Chrissie Collins created MedicAlert Foundation in 1956, the country’s first universal symbol of medical identification. The organization’s mission, then and today, is simple: to save and protect lives by sharing vital medical information in our members’ moments of need.

By alerting first responders and emergency medical personnel to a person’s allergies or chronic medical conditions, Dr. Collins knew he could improve the ability of first responders to provide fast, accurate care. Realizing the potential of his idea, Dr. Collins said, “I think I can save more lives with MedicAlert than I ever can with my scalpel.”

The Collins family established MedicAlert Foundation as a non-profit organization, originally running the Foundation from their living room. From our humble beginnings, we’ve grown become to become the world’s most recognized medical ID symbol.

The MedicAlert Difference

One of the things that sets MedicAlert apart from all other medical IDs is the member health profile. This was part of Dr. Collins’ original idea for the foundation. He knew that the ID itself was important, but it couldn’t always tell the whole story.

He designed a system where MedicAlert stored data on each person wearing a MedicAlert ID. Beyond the vital information on their ID, the health profile keeps track of all medical conditions, allergies, medications, implanted medical devices, and other patient instructions. In an emergency, first responders call MedicAlert’s toll free number, and a team of professionals relay the important information about the MedicAlert member in their care.

In the beginning, these records were hand-written in thick log books, and the phones were answered by the Collins family in their living room. The health profiles were eventually digitized during the 70s, and a 24/7 emergency response team was created to be on call for first responders.

Today, MedicAlert stores member health profiles in state of the art HIPPA-compliant servers, and users can update their profile online at any time. What hasn’t changed is that the emergency response team is still on call 24/7 to aid members and first responders.

MedicAlert Awareness Month

A national movement to promote MedicAlert Awareness began in 1978. President Jimmy Carter honored MedicAlert Foundation for our contributions to public health by declaring the first National MedicAlert Week. In 1996, in recognition of the Foundation's 40th anniversary, California Governor Pete Wilson - along with Governors from 24 other states - proclaimed August as National MedicAlert Awareness Month.⁠

This honor acknowledges MedicAlert Foundation for our innovation and dedication to the mission of protecting and saving lives, as well as the importance of medical identification and serving individuals with unseen or special medical needs.⁠

Achievements

Through the years, MedicAlert has been recognized by many different organizations for our trail-blazing contributions to public health. Here are some highlights:

  • American Hospital Association: MedicAlert Foundation was endorsed by the American Hospital Association (AHA). This was the first endorsement in the history of the AHA and was a milestone for MedicAlert.
  • Smithsonian Museum of American History: The original MedicAlert bracelet is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History!
  • American Medical Association Citation: Founder Chrissie Collins received the American Medical Association's Citation for Distinguished Service and contributions to public health. It was the highest honor ever awarded by the AMA to a non-physician.
  • Accreditations: In 2001, MedicAlert obtained four accreditations from associations that educate nurses and medical assistants: (list the accreditations)

MedicAlert Fun Facts

Some very famous faces have voiced their support of MedicAlert, especially in the 70s and 80s.  Actors, actresses, professional athletes, and performers such as Cher, James Earl Jones, John Ritter, Wayne Gretsky, Chris Evert, David Cassidy, Ed Asner and Tony Randall have publicly supported MedicAlert, endorsing us in public service announcements that appeared on national television and in print publications. And the millionth MedicAlert bracelet ever produced went to none other than comedy great Carol Burnett!

MedicAlert Today

MedicAlert Foundation is proud that in our 64+ years of service, we’ve saved over 4 million lives. The entire foundation is honored to serve our members and live our mission every day. As a nonprofit organization we’re very grateful for the financial support we receive from our donors, which allows us to continue providing our life-saving services.

Now, more than ever, we’re dedicated to continuing to be a leader in public health.  To help our members navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we began the LIVE Healthy Hour series. We bring top health and wellness experts from across the medical field, including  the Alzheimer’s Association, Philips Lifeline, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to answer questions from our community. Our goal is to help our members manage the daily challenges of living with a chronic medical condition, especially during this unprecedented time.

As we continue to live the mission of our founders, we hope you will help us celebrate National MedicAlert Awareness Month by joining our communities on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. All month long, we'll be sharing more about MedicAlert's rich past and exciting future.