Refrigerator Magnet Brings Medical Data to Emergency Responders

By Claire Swedberg

EMS SignPost's solution features a magnet with a built-in NFC RFID tag and software on a cloud-based server to store health-related information about a home's residents.

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In Montgomery, Ohio, emergency medical services (EMS) providers working for the city’s fire department are learning the medical conditions and prescriptions of patients during their emergency calls, in some cases, thanks to a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID magnet attached to a patient’s refrigerator. The system, provided by a Cincinnati company called EMS Signpost, enables county residents to store the medical data on a server, and also allows emergency responders to access that information via the NFC RFID reader built into an Android-based phone or tablet.

The solution, which the county launched a year ago, currently has approximately 160 households that are participating. However, it expects to increase that number as awareness rises, according to Julee Nies, the fire department’s customer service representative.

The Montgomery Fire Department has distributed EMS Signpost refrigerator magnets to approximately 160 of its households so far.

With the technology, a Montgomery resident visits the EMS SignPost website and registers, entering his or her name and address, along with any medical information that would be of relevance to EMS personnel. The resident uploads a headshot, emergency contacts and documents (such as power of attorney, a do-not-resuscitate order and a living will), and also sets up a profile for each member of the family living in the household.

Staff members at the Montgomery Fire Department then receive, review and approve the data and issue an EMS SignPost magnet for that home. The magnet comes with a built-in NFC RFID tag encoded with a unique ID number linked to that household’s data.

Each time an emergency call is placed from that residence, emergency responders can proceed to the refrigerator to see if there is an EMS Signpost magnet there. If there is, they can use the Android device that comes with the ambulance to read the magnet’s NFC tag. The device then accesses the website, where the phone’s unique ID is approved and data is displayed on that device. Responders who use their own personal NFC-enabled smartphones or tablets would need to type in a password to gain access to the information. If the responders lack an NFC-enabled device, they can type in the URL and enter a password. There is also a QR code printed on the back of the magnet that could be used by those with a device lacking an NFC reader.

If there are multiple residents in the home, the emergency responders are prompted to select the appropriate individual via a list of names and photos. The phone then displays details that might help responders determine what kinds of equipment or medications might be needed for that individual. When transporting the patient to the hospital, they can share the data they have collected on the phone or tablet with health-care workers at that location.

The Montgomery Fire Department first tested the technology at the Twin Lakes Senior Living Community, Nies says, with about 50 residents participating. Based on the results of that testing, it decided to offer the solution to the general public.

The solution can be appropriate not only for elderly individuals who may have health problems and a large number of prescriptions, Nies says, but also for families with children who have medical concerns. “It’s a great product for that,” she adds—for instance, in a scenario in which a babysitter might not have information that the EMS staff would need regarding a child’s health conditions. In fact, Nies says she uses the system in her own home, to provide the necessary information regarding her child, who has medical conditions.

According to Nies, most of those who have the magnets learned about the system by calling in to offer their personal information in case there might be a future emergency call. Nies says she and other fire staff recommend that the callers register for the system. The technology has also been featured on the local TV news.

EMS SignPost’s Garrett Keirns

EMS SignPost’s parent company, Electronic Commerce Link Inc., also based in Cincinnati, offers software and website development for municipal governments. About a year ago, its founders conceived the idea of a digital system that offered an alternative to the “vial of life” that is recommended to residents with health issues, says Garrett Keirns, EMS SignPost’s sales manager. The vial of life typically consists of important medical information written on a piece of paper that is stored in a kit at a central location, such as in the refrigerator. Not only might a kit be missed, he explains, but there are also issues of privacy, since anyone could see those papers if they were in the house.

Electric Commerce formed EMS SignPost to market a solution employing digital data storage that can be quickly accessed by those who need it in the event of an emergency. While many elderly patients might not be tech-savvy when it comes to inputting and updating medical information, they can appoint a relative or other guardian to provide information and updates.

EMS SignPost has sold the solution to several other municipalities in the Indianapolis area, Keirns says, and is currently in discussions with others around the country. The magnets are provided by GoToTags, and are made with NXP Semiconductors Mifare Ultralight chips.

“GoToTags works with product manufacturers worldwide to enable NFC in their products for both their customers and our customers,” says Liz Sandoval, GoToTags’ marketing director. “We can produce a large variety of NFC-enabled products, including stickers, wristbands, cards and toys, as well as raw products, such as printable NFC stickers and inlays.”

The benefit of the technology for both residents and EMS workers, Keirns says, is the assurance that the correct information is available during an emergency. The company sells the magnets at a price of $1.60 apiece, and offers EMS agencies access to the data at a rate of $3,000 per year for a community population of 50,000 or less. “We designed it to be affordable,” he states, as the firm was cognizant that fire departments typically have modest budgets.