Tattos replace some MedicAlert bracelets

Medical tattoos are becoming more common, with some people choosing to ink their wrists or other body parts with warnings about a health condition instead of wearing standard MedicAlert bracelets or necklaces, says a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

TORONTO — Medical tattoos are becoming more common, with some people choosing to ink their wrists or other body parts with warnings about a health condition instead of wearing standard MedicAlert bracelets or necklaces, says a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

But critics of the practice say paramedics and emergency room doctors might not notice the tattoos, possibly leading to incorrect treatment.

“On the surface it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but there’s a few issues that we have with it,” said Robert Ridge, president and CEO of the Canadian MedicAlert Foundation.

“The first is paramedics have been trained in Canada for over 50 years to look for a medical alerting ID, usually on the wrist or the neck,” Ridge told The Canadian Press on Monday. “So MedicAlert members either wear a bracelet or a necklet or a watch. And emergency responders have been trained to look in those places for any medical alerting information.”

And it’s not only emergency responders who use the system, he said. “It could be anyone. It could be a member of the public who comes across someone in distress and is able, through the MedicAlert ID, to call the hotline and help the person.”

Ridge said members of the charitable organization wear MedicAlert devices to identify themselves as having a range of conditions, from diabetes and epilepsy to life-threatening allergies to peanuts or certain drugs like penicillin.

Vancouver tattoo artist Andrew Warren said that during his 12 years in business, he’s had a “handful of folks” who wanted a medical-related tat.

In fact, many of those clients were paramedics, he said Monday.

“And that’s the weird thing, because they know it can’t be taken at face value.”

Most of the inked designs appear to have been for esthetic reasons, not as a way to alert emergency responders, Warren said. “And a lot of times, travellers get it, backpackers and stuff, because in other countries they will take it at face value.”

While many people have such tattoos on their arms, he’s also put them on other body parts, including the back.

“I did one on a gentleman who had a heart condition, and I did it on his chest. It was something along the lines of . . . letting them know he had a weak heart,” Warren recalled.

“For the most part, there’s not a lot of function to it,” he said. “One of my old co-workers has a memorial to his pancreas because he’s diabetic. So it was like a little pancreas with R.I.P. written underneath.”

It’s not known how many Canadians have opted to engrave a medical warning in their skin, but it appears to be a growing trend in North America.

Reasons vary: some people can’t wear jewelry on the job because of the nature of their work, while others find bracelets or necklaces can break or get lost. Still others have allergies to metals like nickel that the jewelry may contain.

But Dr. Saleh Aldasouqi of Michigan State University, medical director of the Sparrow Diabetes Center, points out that unlike medical alert jewelry, there are no guidelines about tattoos’ designs or where they should be located on the body.

“This thing has to be standardized,” Aldasouqi, who has written on the issue in the journal American Family Physician, says in the CMAJ article. “We have to at least teach and educate emergency personnel so they become more aware.”

Ridge worries that having a tattoo instead of a standard medical alerting bracelet, for instance, could give a person a false sense of security about what happens in an emergency — and how important it is for paramedics and doctors to have clear, concise information.

“All we’re doing is speaking for you when you can’t speak for yourself and we’re saying what you would want to say in an emergency situation,” Ridge said of medical alerting devices worn around the wrist or neck. “Quite often that information will help save your life or protect your life.”

But a tattoo’s legibility can fade over time, and it’s difficult to update critical changes to a person’s medical condition on a design already inked into the skin, he said. “Even if the emergency responder saw the information (on an existing tattoo), it could be misleading.”

“In order for information to be useful, it has to be accurate (and) it has to be very quick to access.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Masks were made mandatory in any workplace setting across Alberta as the premier introduced sweeping measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)
Kenney declares state of public health emergency as COVID-19 cases rise

High schools shift to online learning, businesses face new restrictions

Lynne McConnell, a Red Deer single mom who runs a delivery company, is left without a car for her business after her vehicle was stolen twice in about 48 hours. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Highway 11, from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House, is about to be twinned in a $120-million project announced Friday. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Town of Sylvan Lake likes Highway 11 twinning plans

Province plans to twin Highway 11 to Rocky Mountain House

Lynn Van Laar, chair of this year’s Christmas Wish Breakfast, said the event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) brings the ball up court against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) during the first half of NBA basketball action in Toronto on January 28, 2020. The Raptors officially annoucned that VanVleet has agreed to a multi-year contract with the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch waves to the crowd before an MLS soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Cincinnati on March 17, 2019. Canadian Premier League team FC Edmonton has hired Koch as head coach and director of football operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo
FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Former Chicago Blackhawk Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous pro hockey players, is honoured at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks game in Edmonton on December 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL pioneer, dies at age 86 after presumed COVID-19 case

Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL pioneer, dies at age 86 after presumed COVID-19 case

Thanksgiving lessons jettison Pilgrim hats, welcome truth

Thanksgiving lessons jettison Pilgrim hats, welcome truth

Most Read