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Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


To prepare in case of a medical emergency can save you stress and money, and may ultimately save your life.

Preparation involves a series of easy-to-do steps. You do not have to take all these steps at once. At least read through them to get an overview. We provide a prioritizer to list the steps you decide to take. You can number the steps with your order of priority. A push of a button reorder the list to your priority. Consider doing one or two steps a day. To be sure you are prepared, it is helpful to give yourself a deadline to complete teh steps. 


  • The types of emergency care available near your home, where you work, and any other place in which you spend substantial amounts of time. 
    • Think about which facility to go to for various events. For instance, a small medical problem or a life challenging emergency. In general, available alternatives include:
  • With respect to emergency rooms:
    • Think about which one to go to if you have a life threatening emergency. 
      • With respect to payment:
        • It is preferable to choose an ER in a hospital where your insurance plan has a relationship and where your doctor works. He or she can oversee your care.  If you have a managed care type health insurance plan, look for the hospital with the most doctors in your insurer's network.
        • If you have a managed care type health insurance policy, whether you need pre-authorization from your insurance company before you obtain emergency services, and if so, how to get it. If your policy requires pre-authorization, and you don't get it, you will likely have to pay the bill yourself.  To learn more, click here.
        • It is advisable to have your insurance card with you at all timesIt helps to speed processes if you have your insurance card with you. The card contains both your i.d. number and the number to call in case the insurer has to be contacted.
        • If you do not have health insurance, an ER must treat an emergency whether you can afford to pay or not.
      • With respect to wait times and experience: Consider which ERs may be known to be less crowded than others or that have more experience treating certain emergencies. (For example, city hospitals generally have more experience treating gun shot wounds than private hospitals. Sorry to say, your health condition does not protect you from life's other medical emergencies.)
    • The financial and legal steps to take now so you are prepared in the event of a medical emergency. See: How To Handle Economic And Legal Affairs In The Event Of An Emergency
    • If you have underage children and cannot care for them because of a medical emergency, learn what to do by clicking here.  
  • How and what to communicate to first emergency responders about your health condition, current status, and medications you are taking.
    • In case you become unable to communicate, wear a medical i.d. alert around your neck or on your wrist. to let first emergency responders know about your medical condition in case you are unable to communicate. (For information, see: Consider Wearing A Medical Bracelet Or Necklace)
    • Carry in your wallet or purse information about your medical history, treatment and/or medications. Consider carrying the information on a computer flash drive or card that fits in your wallet. See: What To Carry In Your Wallet Or Purse All The Time
    • Sign up for an app for your mobile phone such as WindowsPhone offsite link. (free). This app tells first responders your blood type, allergies, medications and emergency contacts. 
    • Put a notice on your front door or over your bed if you do not want to be brought back if your heart or lungs stop (rescucitated). See: What To Do In Case You Have An Emergency At Home And Cannot Communicate
    • Place an entry on your mobile phone for "ICE" - an acronym for "in case of emergency". 
      • List the phone numbers of the person or people to notify in case of emergency. 
      • You can either list the entry just as "ICE" or you can add a name. For example, "ICE1-Charlie." 
      • Ideally, your emergency contact(s) knows your medical history, allergies, and how to contact your doctor(s). 
  • While thinking of emergency situations:
    • It is worth the investment of a few minutes of your time to consider How To Plan In Case Of A Disaster that affects your ability to get medications or a treatment facility. The same items can be used as an emergency tote bag "just in case" you have to go to the hospital.
    • Prepare for medical emergencies that may come up during travel.
      • If no local doctor is available, consider talking with a doctor on line. For instance, through NowClinic offsite link, an endeavor of Optum Health that lets you speak with a doctor for up to 10 minutes for a small fee ($45 in 2013). 
      • See: Emergency Preparations If You Travel


  • Keep in mind that if you have a choice about what time of day to go to an emergency room, go during the least busy time.  As a general matter, emergency rooms are slowest between 3 and 9 AM.  They tend to be busiest after 6:00 PM. Of course, if your situation is urgent, do not wait.  Emergency rooms decide which patient to treat next on a triage system. This means the most urgent patients are treated first, no matter the order in which they arrived.
  • While discussing emergencies, be sure to protect your property and pocketbook in the event of a loss with Homeowners Insurance and Automobile Insurance. Objective, unbiased information about what to look for, how to minimize cost, and how to file claims, is contained in Homeowners Insurance and Automobile Insurance. 

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More Information

Travel 101

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Medical I.D. Bracelets or Necklaces

Think about wearing a medical i.d. bracelet or tag, carrying a specially marked USB flash drive that can be read from any computer in an emergency, or carrying an identifying card. EMS and EMT medical percsonnel are trained to look for medical emergency identification on all four limbs and the neck.  If you can't speak for yourself, your medical ID can tell emergency medical personnel what to treat first and what not to treat.

  • Bracelets and tags are available in a variety of styles from the most basic bracelet to precious metal from a variety of sources. For instance, you can search in your favorite search engine on words such as "Medical i.d. bracelet". Preferably look for a bracelet or tag which works in conjunction with a secure website or toll-free telephone number. Instead of the most basic information, such systems can provide your complete medical history. Some tags, such as the one from offsite link, include additional services such as a family notification service. 
    • offsite link has a personal help button worn around neck or wrist that sends an alert when there is a fall
    • offsite link tracks daily activity and monitors medical indicators. The monitor can display diets, discharge plans, exercises etc. An internet connection talks with wireless sensors that you place around the house. Caregivers see via website.
    • offsite link is a mobile personal emergency response system for use at home or while travelling. It includes GPS technology and alerts CPR trained agents to find your location and assess the situation.
    • offsite link includes a GPS tracking system and in home base station. When the help button is pushed, a medical team responds. E mails go to caregivers and let them know where you are.
  • USB flash drives can range from standard drives that you write on with say a Sharpie pen, to drives offered by companies such as American Medical ID ( offsite link) or MedInfo Chip ( offsite link)
  • I.D. cards are available from a program called Invisible Bracelet. Rather than wear a bracelet or carry a device, you carry a card that provides a website address and an i.d. number. To learn more, see offsite link

NOTE: If you decide to use a bracelet or tag, speak with your doctor to find out whether there is anything in particular that he or she thinks should be engraved on your i.d.  

Find Out From Your Insurer If And When You Need To Get Pre-Authorization

Do not expect that people in the emergency room will know what your insurance covers and whether it requires that you contact the insurer for pre-authorization before going to the emergency room or doing a procedure. 

Look at your policy to determine whether it requires pre-authorization for emergency room services.  If time is of the essence, and the need is urgent, go straight to the emergency room and call from the hospital.

If your insurer does not give you approval but you feel that you require emergency treatment, go the hospital.  You can do battle with the insurance company at a later time. If the need for emergency room services is due to a life-threatening situation (such as a heart attack or stroke), the insurance company has to pay, even if pre-authorization was not obtained.  

What To Carry In Your Wallet Or Purse All The Time

Always carry in your wallet or purse:
  • Your health insurance card.
  • A summary of your medical history, including your diagnosis and the drugs you are currently taking. In case it works for you, there are portable devices that can hold your entire history that work as key rings that can be plugged into a computer.
  • A current list of medications. In addition to all the prescribed drugs you take, include over-the-counter drugs, supplements, vitamins and herbs. Include allergies you have to drugs.
  • If you have a defribrillator or heart monitor, information about the device (including manufacturer, model number and contact information).
  • Contact numbers for your doctors.
  • Contact information for people who are to act if you become incapacitated such as the person authorized to act under your Health Care Power Of Attorney.

How To Handle Economic And Legal Affairs In The Event Of An Emergency

List of Instructions: Write a List of Instructions which provides necessary information to keep your financial and personal life going in the event you cannot take care for a while. 

  • At least include information about when health and other insurance premiums are due and how to pay for them.
  • Let the appropriate person or people know where to find the List.
  • Keep the List to date.
  • We provide a form List of Instructions you can use and print as needed. 

Durable Power Of Attorney: Consider executing a Durable Power Of Attorney which appoints a trusted friend or relative to act for you as "attorney-in-fact" in economic and legal matters in case you can't speak for yourself. 

Living Will And Other Advance Directives:  Consider executing a document known as an "Advance Directive" or "Advance Healthcare Directive" which goes into effect if you become unable to communicate. Documents to consider are a Living Will, Health Care Power Of Attorney (which is different than a financial Durable Power of Attorney) and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR).

A Will: Everyone should have a Will. Make sure your Will is challenge proof. Store it appropriately.

Know Your Legal Rights

If you have an urgent medical condition you have a legal right to be treated at a hospital emergency room, regardless of your ability to pay.

You must be treated until you are in stable condition. 

You may be transferred to another hospital if it is to your medical advantage and the other hospital has agreed to your admission. 

How To Plan In Case Of A Disaster

Think about your health needs and be sure they are covered in case a disaster happens. For instance:

  • Always have at least one week's supply of needed drugs.
  • Keep an extra copy of your prescriptions in case you need to refill them in another locality.
  • Keep a copy of your medical records in a safe place in case you cannot access your doctor's office. (The copy will also be helpful to have when you see new doctors.) To learn about keeping your own copy of your medical records, click here.
  • Contact your local emergency board to find out what other preparedness is suggested for your area. For instance, local evacuation plans, or what to do in the event of flooding. If there is no emergency board, contact your local government agency.

To Learn More

More Information

Medical Records 101

An Emergency Tote Bag

An Emergency Tote Bag should Include what you need for at least a few days in a hospital. Following are some suggestions. Please add what works for your needs. As you consider the contents, please also think about what The American Red Cross and Home Safety Council suggest you keep on hand in the event of a disater. Combining the two keep you prepared "just in case" without  duplicating effort or expense. Those items are listed below.

  • Pajamas or dressing gown.
  • Slippers.
  • Toiletries.
  • Non-perishable food to snack on both in an emergency room and when you first get to your room.
  • Bottled water.
  • Something to keep you occupied such as reading material
  • Copies of your health insurance information and health history.
  • Headphones for your telephone or other device on which you can listen to music and/or watch videos..

If you are not able to take the bag with you, it will be available for a friend or family member to bring you. 

Disaster Emergency supplies

The American Red Cross and Home Safety Council suggest that the following items be kept in an easily portable watertight tub in the event of a disaster.

It is suggested that the items be kept in an easily portable watertight tub in the event of a quick evacuation.

  • A gallon of drinking water per person
  • 3 days' worth of protein rich canned food (preferably with an easy to open top) and a can opener
  • A small tool kit
  • A Flashlight with batteries or flourescent glowsticks.
  • Spare socks.
  • A disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer
  • A first aid kit
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses
  • A one or two week supply of prescription medications

Also consider

  • A duplicate copy of the prescription for your drugs in the event you need a refill while away from home or in case you can't get to your usual pharmacy.
  • A copy of your medical records (or at least a summary of your diagnosis and treatments)
  • A radio that runs on batteries and/or is hand cranked and/or works on solar power. 

What To Do If You Need An Ambulance

You can typically receive care faster at the hospital if you arrive by ambulance. It is even better if you arrive in the hospital's ambulance because when you arrive at the hospital you are treated as if you are already the hospital's patient.

Know the quickest way to your ER. Don't drive yourself. Call 911 if you suspect a stroke or a heart attack. 

If you have a preferred hospital, keep the telephone number of the hospital's ambulance service posted near your phone, or even better, pre-programmed in your phone.Patients who are picked up by ambulance can choose which hospital to go to, if circumstances and travel time allow. However, if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency you should be taken directly to the nearest emergency room. 

Prior to actually needing an ambulance, determine if your insurance will cover the fee and under what conditions. If your insurance covers ambulance service, determine the name and phone number of the ambulance service you prefer and keep it in your wallet as well as in a visible place in your house "just in case." If you have a problem, use an ambulance to get to the emergency room.

If your plan does not cover ambulance service and you are experiencing a medical emergency call 911. You can worry about payment at a later time.

If you are experiencing chest pains, symptoms of stroke, a severe asthma attack or another possibly urgent medical condition, call 911 immediately. Recent studies indicate that 92 out of 100 people experiencing symptoms of heart attack, first called a neighbor or spouse. Several hours were lost while they decided what to do. Make the phone call to a neighbor or loved one only after emergency help is on its way.

Emergency Preparations If You Travel

While traveling, it is advisable to be prepared in case you have an emergency that can be taken care of locally, and transportation coverage if you need to transported to a medical center or back home.

To prepare for medical emergencies while you travel, consider health insurance and practical steps to take.

Health Insurance

  • Check your health insurance to see what, if anything, is covered while you travel. You may also have coverage through a premium credit card if you charge the trip on that card. If you have such a card, check to see what is covered.
  •  Fill in the gaps with travel insurance that does not have a pre-existing condition exclusion.
  • To learn about what coverage is advisable to have, and how to get it, see Travel Insurance Post Diagnosis. 

Practical Steps

In case of emergency, carry with you a copy of each of the following which could prove vital during your trip:

  • A summary of medical records to be carried with your wallet or passport.
  • A written update of your condition.
  • A complete list of medications (prescriptions and over-the-counter) and dietary supplements being taken, including their dosages. (If you will cross time zones, recalculate medicine schedule with your doctor to accommodate changes.)
  • A list of your allergies.
  • A list of drugs that may cause adverse reactions to your medicine.
  • A record of your blood type.
  • A copy of your eyeglass or contact lens prescription (as well as a spare pair of glasses or contacts).
  • A letter which explains why you carry needles and syringes (if applicable). The letter doesn't have to give details about your condition, only that they are medically necessary to administer your medication.
  • A list of doctors, hospitals, and facilities that specialize in your condition in each of the areas you will visit. A Letter of Introduction from your doctor (addressed "To whom it may concern" or "Dear Doctor") may help get services you need.
  • If you may need oxygen during your travel, ask how to arrange it. Oxygen is readily available throughout the United States. Information on the availability of oxygen is available through:
    • The American Lung Association offsite link, Tel.: 212 315 8700
    • The American Thoracic Society offsite link, Tel.: 212 315 8700
    • The American Association for Respiratory Care offsite link, Tel.: 972 243 2272

What To Do In Case You Have An Emergency At Home And Cannot Communicate

  •  Put an alert on the front door that informs emergency responders where to find your medical information. There may be a "File Of Life" program in your area which offers decals for your front door to alert emergency personnel to look on the refrigerator for a magnetic red plastic case containing the file. Call your local Office of Aging (type your state and "Office of Aging" in your favorite search engine or go to www.eldercare.go offsite linkv), or your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have such a program or a similar one. If not, you can obtain decals from File Of ( offsite link
  • If you do not want to be resuscitated, put this information in the File of Life in bold lettering. Include a copy of your DNR and other advance directives. If you are bedridden, consider including a sign above your bed not to resuscitate.

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