Desktop: In time of need

The computer era has provided us with a powerful tool to use in emergencies - a "personal health record."

It may be February, but summer will be here soon enough. And you know what that means: vacation time! And while most folks will try to get away for awhile to locations near or far, there are always going to be an unfortunate few who "get" to see the inside of a place they would rather not have to tour - the hospital. It's always the furthest thing from most peoples' minds, especially for those in good health. Nobody wants to think of themselves as an accident victim, disease stricken or worse, God forbid - but it's always a possibility. If you're traveling abroad, you're wise to take out extra insurance, and if you stay local, it's a good idea to carry your health-fund card around with you. But what if you end up in the hospital - and are in no condition to tell doctors that you're allergic to certain drugs? If you're unconscious, how will you communicate vital medical information to caregivers? Some people print out their medical histories when they travel - but what if you forget your papers in your hotel room on the wrong day? I don't mean to frighten anyone, but let's face it - hospitals are there for a reason. Fortunately, the computer era has provided us with a powerful tool to use in emergencies - a "personal health record" (PHR), an on-line description of your medical condition, insurance information and other data caregivers need access to. Generally, most on-line PHRs are provided by HMOs and insurance companies for their clients, but there are a few independent sites that anyone can join. At, for example, you can sign up for the free World Medical Card, an on-line database that will securely hold your medical information, to get doctors who don't know you up to speed on important information. The service is free, and you can even print out a card, suitable for laminating and storing in your wallet, with Web site and log-in information. Is it a good idea to list such information on a Web site? Can't a determined hacker break in to the site and find out your private information? Maybe - but besides the fact that every institution that needs to already knows about you anyway, who says you have to use your real name on-line? Who's to say you're not really Fred Flintstone?