Medical ID vs. Medical Alert Systems

Being a caregiver to a loved one with a medical condition is a constant juggling act of responsibilities to manage your life and theirs. Throw in kids and a full-time career as well as your loved one’s health and safety, and you’re probably in a perpetual state of exhaustion and worry. So how do you put your mind at ease? How do you help your loved one stay well and independent while still caring for their needs? One good tool for your caregiver’s toolkit is a medical ID or medical alert system. Both of these can help those you care for safely live their best lives while giving everyone a measure of peace of mind.

A medical ID and medical alert system are wearable devices with distinct differences. Both can help your loved one in an accident or medical emergency.  A medical ID is usually a piece of jewelry that contains important medical information, while a medical alert system is a wearable device with a button that, when activated, summons a first responder to help in an emergency. The benefits of each extend beyond just their differences and that’s why we took a deep dive into the differences, benefits, and why both are equally important to a caregiver as well as the wearer. 

What is a Medical ID?

A medical ID is something wearable, such as jewelry or a watch, which is personalized with potentially lifesaving information. Medical conditions, drug and food allergies, prescribed medicines and emergency contacts are the kind of critical information that can be engraved onto the surface of a medical ID bracelet or necklace. With MedicAlert IDs, entire online health records and emergency contact lists can be accessed through key information engraved on the ID.

Who should wear a Medical ID?

People with certain pre-existing or chronic medical conditions, impairments, or allergies wear medical IDs to alert first responders and medical professionals to their conditions in an emergency if they are unable to do so themselves. Because some emergency procedures or medications can have a negative or even fatal effect in the presence of other medications or conditions, a medical ID is an excellent precaution for people with cardiac or pulmonary problems, diabetes and blood disorders, surgery, transplant or cancer patients, or memory and cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s or autism.

Why are Medical IDs important?

How awful would it be if the emergency medical aid that is supposed to help you, hurt you instead? Preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart conditions, hemophilia or allergies can inadvertently make some emergency measures do more harm than good. Certain emergency treatments could have adverse effects for those on certain medications. And if you or someone you love becomes incapacitated and unable to speak to responders in an emergency and let them know about your conditions and medications, what’s to stop that from happening?

A medical ID can, and that’s why it’s so important to have an easily recognizable Medical ID that gives first responders and medical personnel an understanding of your medical history, which can then help them treat you as quickly and effectively as possible.

MedicAlert Foundation created the original medical ID bracelet over 65 years ago, basically introducing the product category. Our symbol – the Staff of Asclepius — is the most easily recognized among all types of emergency ID bracelets and necklaces. As the creators of the very first, original medical ID, MedicAlert is so trusted and well-known that first responders, law enforcement officers, and other emergency personnel are thoroughly trained to look for the IDs, and on how to use the critical information they impart.

What is the difference between a Medical ID and a Medical Alert System?

A Medical ID contains important information for emergencies, but it is only helpful if someone else notices, recognizes, and utilizes the information. An ID bracelet, necklace, or other wearable will not bring help to you, but a Medical Alert System, or Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), will. Medical alert systems summon help from emergency personnel to wherever you are and allows them to respond quickly and effectively to any emergency, no matter where you are or what has happened.

How do medical alert systems work?

A person using a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) wears a small device with a button that he or she can push if they are in a situation that requires urgent attention, such as an accident or fall, with no assistance nearby. The button connects electronically either directly to the emergency alert service, or to the person’s phone, which is programmed to send a signal to a response center or to other contact persons who can then carry out a series of actions to help the person in need.

In addition to the emergency alert button used to activate the system, other common features on PERS devices include wireless technology for service anywhere you go, and GPS tracking so emergency responders can pinpoint your location. Additional features may include “fall technology,” described in more detail below, and outreach to individuals such as family members who have been designated as emergency contacts.

Why would someone need a medical alert system?

Medical alert systems are helpful in any situation where immediate emergency help is needed. They are especially useful for people at high risk, such as senior citizens and other adults with health problems who live alone, to get immediate help whenever needed.

Typical scenarios can range from minor injuries, such as accidentally cutting yourself with a knife while cooking, to more serious situations such as a stroke or heart attack, to becoming disoriented from Alzheimer’s or dementia. One of the most common uses for medical alert technology is for slipping or falling, which is, unfortunately, the most frequent risk for seniors who are “aging in place” at home. Many PERS systems come equipped with specialized fall detection technology that has the capability to detect when a fall is happening or has just happened, and then activate the alert function.

How do Medical IDs and Medical Alert Systems complement each other?

Some, but not all, medical alert systems include not only the technology to summon assistance, but the additional benefits of connection to a personal health database. Many, however, do not. In that case, it’s up to the individual to communicate their relevant medical history and conditions to first responders in an emergency. Some seniors and others with chronic conditions who live alone keep a hard-copy of their medications and conditions in an easy-to-find place, such as hanging on their refrigerator. That could be effective if the accident or emergency occurs in the home, and if the information is kept updated. But the beauty of a PERS/medical ID combination is that once the alert system brings emergency personnel to the scene of an emergency, wherever it may occur, they can then use the updated information on the person’s Medical ID to provide the best possible care.