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ACEP: Cell Phones Can Be Quick Resource for Emergency Contacts


NEW ORLEANS -- An emergency department in Albany, N.Y., is using ER visits as teaching moments to instruct patients how to program cell phones with I-C-E (in case of emergency), with contact names and numbers.

NEW ORLEANS Oct. 18 -- Three letters -- I-C-E -- programmed into a cell phone's contact list can put emergency personnel in touch with friends or family members of a patient who is unable to communicate, researchers here recommended.

ICE stands for "in case of emergency," and is rapidly becoming a standard means for emergency personnel to quickly reach a designated contact in case of acute illnesses or trauma that leave the patient incommunicado.

The emergency department itself appears to be a good place to spread the word about ICE, noted Dennis McKenna, M.D., of the Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center, and colleagues, at the American College of Emergency Physicians meeting.

"Once visitors are in the emergency department, we can make the most of their time by teaching something valuable," said Dr. McKenna. "In the future, patients with ICE on a cell phone may help us give them the best possible treatment in a timely fashion."

The investigators conducted a cross sectional, observational-based study of a consecutive sample of patients arriving at their ED.

All patients who arrived and anyone accompanying them were approached during the visit and requested to complete a short, anonymous survey that asked whether they were aware of the idea of putting the acronym ICE in their cell phone.

The authors also collected demographic information including gender, age, ethnicity, and level education.

Respondents who had not already programmed ICE into their phones were offered a brief education program about the importance of this simple act, and those who sat through the program were offered help programming their phones while in the ED. The authors also noted whether the participants said they would program the phone to include ICE themselves.

Of 556 persons approached in the ED during the study period, 438 people returned the survey, and 423 surveys were completed correctly. Of the 423 people who completed surveys, 285 owned a cell phone.

Among all cell phone owners, 76 said they had heard of ICE, and 26 (9%) said they had already programmed ICE into their phones. An additional 259 people in the cohort as a whole had either never heard of ICE, or had heard of it but had not put it on their phones.

In all 196 of the 259 had their phones with them, and 178 agreed to listen to the short educational session on the importance of ICE.

Among this group, 129 (66%) agreed to have ICE programmed into their phone while in the ED. This group represented 45% of all cell phone owners. Of the 129 who placed ICE on their phone in the ED, 58 did it themselves, 36 had a family member do it, and 35 allowed the researcher to do it for them.

In multivariate logistic regression analysis, the authors found that more highly educated people, women and non-whites were more likely than other to place ICE on their phones.

"We often are struggling to reach family members when a patient cannot speak to us, and the first place we might look is a cell phone," said Dr. McKenna. "A family member or friend is one of our best resources for learning about the patient's medical history. Our study shows that people are very willing to program their phones as long as someone tells them why and how to do it, or even does it for them."

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