File of Life packet

The Columbia Fire Department is partnering with MU Health Care and Boone Hospital Center to distribute “File of Life,” which allows Columbia residents to place medical information on their refrigerator doors. This helps first responders access the information when residents are unable to communicate.

COLUMBIA — An email from a Columbia resident has prompted the launch of a simple new program that could improve quality of care in emergencies.

It's called File of Life, a product that allows people to write down their important medical information on a form, store it in a fireproof file and place it where it's easily accessible to first responders in a medical emergency. The big  white letters on a 5-inch by 4-inch red background are hard to miss, and they conceal the confidential information inside.

The resident found out about File of Life when she began to take care of her elderly father in Illinois who had one in his home. In the email to the fire department, she said Columbia residents should have access to File of Life and suggested the fire department offer it.

Columbia Fire Assistant Fire Chief Brad Fraizer wouldn't disclose the name of the person who generated the spark but said the department would begin offering File of Life for free Wednesday, in cooperation with Boone Hospital Center and University of Missouri Health Care.

“A lot of times we have medical emergencies and people are not able to convey what’s wrong or what medical conditions they may have," Fraizer said. "Every second counts, and more time means we can provide better care."

The file also provides first responders with pertinent information about someone who cannot speak for himself or herself about medical conditions. "It allows the responder to provide the right treatment faster,” Fraizer said.

The file lists a person’s medical conditions and history, what medications they’re taking, any allergies they have, their emergency contact and insurance information.

Bob Garczynski, a spokesperson with File of Life, which is based in Connecticut, said that since its start in 1995, the organization has provided 19 million people nationwide with a File of Life packet to either keep on their fridge or on their person.

“Every first responder I’ve talked to loves it,” Garczynski said. “If they know a person's medical history, they are able to treat them immediately and get them to the ER faster.”

File of Life works with organizations such as fire and police departments, hospitals, ambulance companies and Red Cross groups throughout the country. They often sell 1,000 to 5,000 packets to organizations at a time.

The Columbia Fire Department, Boone Hospital Center and MU Health Care purchased a total of 3,000 File of Life packets at a $1 apiece. The total cost of $3,000 was divided among the three organizations for distribution to Columbia residents.

Fraizer said that since the department's announcement Wednesday morning, the fire department had already received six requests for a File of Life.

Marc Carr, a Boone Hospital Center EMS administrator, stressed just how important the information found in a File of Life can be for first responders. 

“Without something like the File of Life, we hope the patient is a good historian and can provide us those details,” Carr said. “If the patient is incapacitated, we look to family members."

However, both the fire department and Boone Hospital Center EMTs have been in many situations where they had no information about a person in distress.

“If we are not provided with any information, we are forced to treat the patient as if they have no medical history or allergies and aren’t taking medications,” Carr said.

Ben Cornelius, a spokesperson with Boone Hospital Center, said that the File also helps when people arrive at the emergency room because it gives physicians and nurses a head start providing proper care. If that patient requires extended care from the hospital, their history is already known and the care they receive is improved, he said.

File of Life isn't the only way to ensure first responders have important information on the people they treat. A feature on iPhones allows people to enter their medical information where it can be accessed in an emergency situation without a passcode.

While EMTs are aware of this feature, when they've tried to use it, patients haven't had any information stored on their phones, Carr said.

There is also a "Smart911" system available to Boone County residents, which allows people to register any medical information they want responders to know and is then linked to a specific number. So, whenever the 911 dispatch receives a call from that number, the information appears on their screens, Carr said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed

  • Spring 2018 state government reporter. I can be reached by email at kaitlinwashburn@mail.missouri.edu, by phone at 619-565-5768 or on Twitter @kwashy12.

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