What health information to carry — and what not to carry — with you

You just never know when you — or a first responder — might need access to your health information.

An allergic reaction pops up unexpectedly. You sprain your ankle at the gym. Or — worse case scenario — you are struck by a heart attack or stroke while you're out and about. While a lot of health care facilities can share information through electronic health records, not all can.

Or it could be a nonemergency situation, such as having to prove your COVID vaccination status before getting on a cruise ship or into an entertainment venue.

Here are some tips and ideas for the kind of information you need to keep handy. Fortunately, our smartphones are a great repository for this information — as long as you trust the technology and are comfortable with the privacy precautions you've taken.

1) Most importantly, keep a list of all your medications, allergies and chronic health conditions on you at all times. It's important to include how many milligrams of each medication you use and how frequently. It doesn't have to be a big sheet of paper; print it in small type and trim down to a convenient size.

2) A list of your health care providers is also a good thing to keep handy, at least your primary care provider. But if, for example, you have a heart condition, include the contact information for your cardiologist. It could save precious moments in an emergency.

3) Carry your COVID vaccination card with you. I don't recommend carrying the original — I keep mine in a safe place so I know where to find it when it's time for another booster. If you prefer to keep the card with you, you can purchase a protective sleeve for it on Amazon for less than $3.

Another option for your COVID card is to carry a digital copy. You could take a picture of it with your phone. Another alternative: Just a couple of weeks ago, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that its Vax Verify immunization portal now includes use of the SMART Health Card. You can download a QR code that will easily confirm your vaccination status. Learn more at

4) Along with your doctors and medications, have a list of your emergency contacts. On your phone you can designate ICE (in case of emergency) contacts, or on an iPhone, add them under Settings>Health>Medical ID. This is another place you can keep your medical conditions and medication information. Be sure to enable emergency access to allow first responders to bypass your lock screen and password.

5) Take your health insurance and Medicare cards. This used to be dicey when Medicare used Social Security numbers as ID numbers, but they stopped doing that several years ago. Don't laminate your Medicare card because it could interfere with some of the safety features; rather, find a safe place for it in your wallet or get a plastic sleeve. Guard both these cards as you would a credit card.

6) Bring along a pack of tissues, a small bottle of hand-sanitizer and some disinfecting wipes. You can wipe down grocery cart handles and restaurant tables. And, really, you don't want to always sneeze into your sleeve, do you?

7) A few simple first aid items may come in handy: a couple of Band-Aids, a pain reliever and antacids. Benadryl could block a potentially dangerous allergic reaction.

Now, how do you make room for all of these things? By not carrying around items that, if lost or stolen, could compromise your identity or your financial well-being. According to the experts, there's no need to carry around:

• Your Social Security card; keep it in a safe place at home.

• More than one or two credit cards.

• Checkbook and check deposit slips.

• Gift cards. If you lose them, you're out of luck.

• ATM and gas station receipts.

• Password cheat sheets.

• Excess cash. If you thumb through $100 bills to pay for something, you may become a target of theft.

The new year is always a good time to clear out the clutter and set your sights on what's important. This is true about ourselves, and it also applies to what's in our wallets and purses.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( Nurses considering becoming an advocate can call Teri at (312) 788-2640.

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