Turlock teen Linda Collins' near fatal allergic reaction to a doctor-administered tetanus antitoxin in 1953 — and her family's desire to prevent a similar medical emergency in the future — revolutionized the health information field.
The story of how Turlock physician Marion Collins and his wife, Chrissie Collins, designed the first Medic Alert emblem and bracelet for their daughter, and then created an international foundation to provide emergency medical information services for all who needed it, is one of the great American innovation stories.
Over the past 57 years, MedicAlert has grown in size and reach, the foundation's technology has been upgraded and the services it provides has expanded. But the core mission of the foundation has remained the same.
"From index cards in a file, to microfiche...to computers, it's essentially the same service," said MedicAlert President and CEO Andrew Wigglesworth.
While retaining the foundation's goal of "speaking for people when they're unable to speak for themselves," MedicAlert has not let innovations in technology and changes in the medical field pass it by.
"For the past three years, we've been working to retain the best of our past, but build a new future for MedicAlert," Wigglesworth said.
How exactly is MedicAlert building a new future? Through a completely upgraded computer system, new smartphone applications and a continuum of services for people with differing life and medical circumstances.
"When runners with no ID are hit by a bus, how can they be identified? For those folks, ID is oftentimes all they'll need. For people with multiple conditions, in a cancer trial or with a medically implanted device, access to full records becomes so important," Wigglesworth said.
Along with the types of services offered, who MedicAlert serves is also changing. While once solely based on an individual membership, the foundation has recently expanded its reach.
In 2012, MedicAlert partnered with the Department of Justice to launch an integrated information system with law enforcement databases and the foundation's Alzheimer's Safe Return program.
“Given the growing number of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, we are hopeful that this direct connection between law enforcement information systems and the MedicAlert Safe Return registry will help law enforcement, more quickly, locate persons with Alzheimer’s, who become lost or disoriented and reunite them with their families," said Denise E. O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The foundation also launched a new service for employers. The service provides two primary services: medical care coordination and identification notification. According to MedicAlert, care coordination can help keep medical costs down by preventing improper treatment and adverse drug reactions. During emergencies, especially on the road for traveling employees, the notification service aims to keep employers, families and health plans informed.
MedicAlert is also helping healthcare systems meet the quality improvement requirements in the Patient Care and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The foundation joined forces with Medicaid Health Plans of America to provide care coordination for Medicaid enrollees.
“Medicaid managed care has proven to be a highly successful model for coordinating care for low-income and culturally diverse populations. The care coordination aspect of MedicAlert Foundation’s services will only add to our member health plans’ capabilities in this area, especially as they prepare to administer benefits to the dual-eligible population,” said Joe Moser, MHPA’s interim executive director. “Medicaid-Medicare enrollees represent just 15 percent of the Medicaid population but account for 40 percent of total Medicaid spending. MedicAlert Foundation’s services can go a long way to help MHPA member companies improve outcomes of this special group while having a positive effect on health plan operations and state budgets.”
These services are just the start. In New Zealand, information from members' doctors goes directly into their MedicAlert files. The island country was selected as a test market due to its smaller population and the fact that one information system serves 90 percent of health providers.
"It's where we're going," Wigglesworth said of the integrated health information system in New Zealand.
Despite the breakthroughs in technology that make immediate access and integration possible, MedicAlert remains what it's always been.
"We're a 24/7 safety net that uses technology to deliver it," said Wigglesworth.