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Health column: This one document can save EMTs valuable time


If you experience a medical emergency, you may not be able to tell first responders what health conditions you have or what medications you’re taking. You may not be able to communicate at all. This can make the job of emergency medical technicians more difficult, potentially even putting your life at risk.

That’s precisely the type of scenario the founders of the national Vial of Life Project want to help people — particularly seniors — avoid.

Based in California, the Vial of Life Project is a nonprofit organization that provides a free medical information form on its website, vialoflife.com. This printable document provides space for participants to list their blood type, current and past health conditions, allergies, current medications, health insurance information and more. The completed form can be folded into a plastic baggie and securely taped to the refrigerator door in the person’s home so first responders can easily spot it. Vial of Life’s website also offers bright red printable stickers to place on the baggies, making them even more visible.

“It does save time,” said Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian, adding that Vial of Life forms and stickers are also available at the Southold Fire Department. “If you go to a house and the person is unconscious, you can open up the Vial of Life and it will have all the person’s information on it.”

Debbie Schwarz, site manager at the Riverhead Senior Center in Aquebogue, said her facility encourages people to fill out the Vial of Life form and keep a copy in their purse or wallet. If someone can’t or doesn’t want to print out the document, she said, they can simply write the information on an index card.

“It makes life easier for EMTs because they know where to look for information,” she said.

Karen McLaughlin, director of Southold Town Senior Services in Mattituck, said her facility has distributed Vial of Life forms in the past but doesn’t currently have any on hand. She said it’s something she encourages “all families to think about” and added that it’s important to update the forms whenever there’s a change in health status, medication or insurance.

“Sometimes the information is really outdated,” Ms. McLaughlin said.

Click here to create your own Vial of Life form.

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].