Medical bracelets can put patients at risk: Coroner

October 31, 2013 – 12:01AM

Kristian Silva

Journalist

One of the medical bracelets sold by MedicAlert.

One of the medical bracelets sold by MedicAlert.

Patients are being put at risk by poorly designed medical bracelets, which do not clearly display critical information about potentially dangerous allergies, a coroner has found.

The warning comes after a woman with a penicillin allergy had a cardiac arrest when she was injected with the drug, after staff at the Bundaberg Base Hospital failed to notice an alert on her bracelet.

In findings handed down this week, coroner David O’Connell said it was “very clear” medical staff often could not differentiate between regular jewellery and specially-designed medical bracelets with warnings.

One of the medical bracelets sold by MedicAlert.

One of the medical bracelets sold by MedicAlert.

But a popular bracelet manufacturer, the MedicAlert Foundation, says it has no plans to remove items from its product line and insists its jewellery provides clear warnings when worn properly.

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The coroner found a penicillin injection caused 74-year-old Marcia Loveday to suffer a severe allergic reaction and a cardiac arrest on July 19, 2010.

Mrs Loveday, who had a history of poor health and arrived at the hospital with chest and abdominal pain, died four days later. However, the coroner ruled that the injection did not hasten her death.

Only after the injection was given did hospital staff realise Mrs Loveday’s silver bracelet had the words “Medic Alert” and the international medical symbol of two snakes entwined around a rod, known as the Rod of Asclepius.

The bracelet’s reverse side included her phone number and the words “ALLERGIC TO PENICILLIN, MINOMYCIN, & CECLOR”.

“Mrs Loveday’s bracelet resembled a piece of well worn jewellery. Apart from the engraving on it there was no distinctive feature of its appearance,” Mr O’Connell said.

He called on manufacturers to create products with prominent warnings that placed “function over fashion”.

“I am very firmly of the opinion that function is the sole objective if this item is to perform its intended task. Fashion must only ever represent a very small element in the overall consideration of its design,” Mr O’Connell said.

Australia MedicAlert Foundation chief executive Sandra Turner said the organisation’s local bracelets and necklaces had displayed the Rod of Asclepius emblem since 1971, and the products adhered to Australian and international standards.

“It is disappointing to note the claims that some Queensland medical workers do not recognise the international symbol for medicine, which dates back to Greek mythology,” she said.

“The tragic death of Mrs Loveday flags the need for greater awareness training to healthcare and emergency service professionals to better acquaint themselves with the MedicAlert emblem and medical ID products in general.”

Ms Turner said the organisation ran education programs and encouraged its 160,000 Australian members to check their jewellery regularly to ensure warnings were legible.

She said some customers were reluctant to wear jewellery with overt warnings about serious medical conditions, and that was why they sold a wide range of products.

In the findings into Mrs Loveday’s death, the coroner also called for Queensland Health to implement changes to any hospitals with the same patient triage setup as the Bundaberg Base Hospital had in 2010.

He also called for Queensland Health and the Queensland Ambulance Service to work with doctors to create education material, and to investigate whether a medical wristband alert system could be devised.

Mr O’Connell did not recommend that a nurse and doctor at the hospital be investigated over Mrs Loveday’s death.

The Brisbane Times

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