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Emergency Contact Cards - Do They Really Protect College Students When Emergency Strikes?


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What kind of information do the cards contain?

First of all, no two college emergency cards are exactly alike. Some ask a few basic questions, giving you a space or two for your most important emergency contacts, one space for your primary care physician information, your insurance number and a very basic medical, allergy and vaccination history. Other forms are several pages long, capturing everything there is to know about your medical history, multiple emergency contacts and information on every doctor you've ever seen!

Whether the information on the card is effective for the student, really depends on the type of emergency. If the student has broken his arm and is alert and talking, then having his regular doctor's and insurance contact information at his fingertips, along with his extended medical history, is probably enough.

But let's say that a student is hit by a car, or based on recent events, a stray bullet. If she's taken to the emergency room and fighting for her life, her ER doctor needs to know everything she can about that student, from her medical history to prescriptions she's currently taking that could interfere with her treatment. What if the ER is trying to contact her family, but there's no answer at the one telephone number on the contact card? If they're calling that contact number to find out critical medical history on the student, having alternate contact numbers on her emergency form, could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Where are the cards kept and how easily they can be retrieved?

Many universities split their emergency cards into two forms. The first form will have the student's basic “in case of emergency" information and contacts, which is usually kept in the registrar's or admissions office. The second form details the student's medical history and is kept in the university health center. Other schools have emergency contacts on an online system and the paper-based medical history filled away in an administrative office.

That's fine if the student is dropping by the health center for a routine medical problem. But if a student is taken to a hospital in an emergency, hospitals won't be able to access or use that information, until the school sends it over. The school might not even know right away that the emergency or illness has occurred. Once they're aware of the situation, they'll have to locate and pull the information, then send it over to the hospital. Realistically the whole process could take hours, hours which that student might not have. And if an emergency occurs after business hours, a hospital might not be able to access and use that emergency information, until the next business day.

How current is the information?

How often do university students update their emergency contact cards and medical information? Once a semester? Once a year? Never? That depends on the university. In today's world, things change quickly. Just think about your own life. How often do you have to update your Outlook or cell phone contacts? If you're anything like us, we update them every few weeks. For college students, the world moves at an even faster pace.

From potential emergency contacts (parents, relatives and roommates) to their own medical history, current physicians, illnesses or prescriptions they should be recording, things can literally change every day. Unless a student has immediate access to his emergency information whenever he need to update it, the information on it could be hopelessly out of date. Updating information on the fly is something normal emergency contact cards just aren't set up to do.

Does it serve the university and students for which it was designed?

Yes and no. It depends on the form's availability and the needs of the students. For a non-residential community college, limited information might be sufficient. If a student is injured at a community college, the injury would probably occur during regular school hours and the college would be able to locate and transmit emergency information to a hospital as soon as they are notified about the accident. But if a student becomes ill or is injured during night classes, having the student's emergency information filed away in a closed administrative office wouldn't be much help.

For a residential university, a traditional emergency contact card and basic medical information form might not work at all. Students are on campus twenty-four hours a day, with most medical emergencies occurring after school hours. Unless the university has administration or security personnel available twenty-four hours a day, with access to the student's emergency information, it could take hours to locate and send a student's emergency information to a hospital. And if the emergency occurs after school hours, or worse, over the weekend, hours could easily turn into days.

Do emergency cards work in a mass casualty situation?

When natural disasters and mass casualties occur at a university, students may have to rely on their own resources to survive, until disaster personnel arrive at the site or until emergency plans can be activated. There's nothing wrong with that - in a sudden emergency, universities must do what they can to secure all of their students as well as the campus, faculty and staff.

As much as they try, what a school can realistically do in a crisis, depends on the nature of the crisis. In a mass casualty emergency, disaster personnel or the records themselves, might not even be physically available. Think about the Union University tornado, where entire buildings were destroyed.

Or Hurricane Katrina, where buildings, (along with the records within them), were not only badly damaged but uninhabitable for weeks or months after the disaster. Even in an emergency like the Virginia Tech or NIU shootings, personnel would be so busy dealing with the situation, that they might not have the resources to locate and transmit their injured student's emergency information to a hospital.

The Solution

So, do emergency contact and health information cards work? In short, no. Standard emergency contact cards are yesterday's answer to a world that is changing by the minute. They need to be replaced by a solution that can change as quickly as a university's environment. So what is the solution? need a system where they can store the emergency contact information and medical history necessary to save their lives in any kind of a medical emergency, campus or natural disaster, where they or a hospital can access it, 24/7.

Of course universities can spend untold time, energy and money creating this type of system themselves. But why reinvent the wheel? The new web enterprise Stuf - from the founders of the Next of Kin Education Project - have done it for them. Stuf, now accepting subscriptions from universities for the fall semester, is the first and only virtual emergency contact card for college students.

Combining NOKEP's unique system for documenting medical and vital information, with cutting-edge technology, they have created an easy to use, secure online repository where college students and their parents can safeguard a student's detailed medical and emergency contact information, along with their choice of other vital information. If a student is injured, or the victim of an accident or violence, hospitals can use information on the student's school ID card to log into the database with a special secure password 24/7 that allows them access to the student's full medical history and emergency contacts. This enables hospitals to treat injured or ill students with their specific needs and medical background in mind.

Even better, there is no long term cost to universities and no technical set up. To find out more visit .

Laura Greenwald, has authored three pieces of health care legislation in California and Illinois, and is co-creators of the Seven Steps to Successful Notification System providing quick, easy next of kin notification for trauma patients in hospitals like Dallas’ Methodist Medical Center.
Download your free Grab it and Go Form to capture all of your family's medical and emergency information and store it along with your other vital information.


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