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Emergency Medical Files & Preparedness

Millions of older adults experience unexpected health emergencies every year.

Having an emergency preparedness plan as well as a readily available emergency medical file can be life saving in these scenarios.

Emergency Preparedness:

The first step in preparing for an emergency is creating a plan.

  • Choose a contact person who will check on you our your loved one during an emergency or disaster. Consider speaking with neighbors about developing a check-in system.

  • Create a list of contact information for family members and any caregivers. Leave a copy by your phone(s) and include a copy in you or your loved ones emergency medical files.

  • Plan how you or your loved one will leave in case of an emergency or evacuation. If you are living in a retirement or assisted living community, learn what procedures are in place in case of emergencies and keep a copy of any exit routes.

  • If you or your loved one has medical, transportation, or other access needs during an emergency or disaster, consider signing up for SMART911, Code Red, or your local country registry, depending upon which service your area uses to help first responders identify people who might need assistance right away.

Emergency Medical Files

What Is An Emergency Medical File?

An emergency medical file is a readily available, centralized file of documents of important health information and details of an individual’s medical history and should include any pre-existing conditions, allergies, medications, and more.

This information can be crucial for first responders, doctors, and other care professionals during emergencies. If an emergency medical file is not readily available, especially in time-sensitive emergencies, life-saving decisions could be delayed or critical medical errors may happen.

Emergency Medical Files Should Include:

  • Identifying Information Add a name, address, and date of birth on the front page. Also, consider including a copy of a photo ID, because some hospitals many require picture identification to avoid insurance or billing fraud.

  • Emergency Contact Information A list of emergency contacts—including names, phone numbers, addresses, and places of employment— this information should also be placed near the front of the emergency medical file.

  • Medical Information Official medical records contain information that helps emergency professionals provide the best treatment. Make sure to include brief summaries of the following:


List any and all dietary allergies, environmental allergies, and allergies to medications. This will ensure an individual is not exposed to any known allergens during treatment.

Health Conditions & Surgeries

List any health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. Include any previous medical events such as a heart attack, stroke, and any procedures or surgeries.

Medication Chart

Document all medications including the name, dose, and instructions as well as the condition/reason for the medication.

Medical Equipment

Some older adults may use medical equipment such as a walker, hearing aid, or insulin pump. List any medical equipment used along with how long it has been used and for what reason.

  • Doctor Information Compile a list of all health providers, including their name, contact information, and location of practice

  • Insurance Information Include a copy (front and back) of you or your loved one's insurance card. This can help ensure you or your loved one’s medical care is billed correctly from the start, even if their original cards are left behind in the rush to the hospital or clinic.

  • Advance Directives Advance directives are legal documents that clearly explains a person's wishes regarding any medical decisions in the event that they are unable to make decisions on their own. Examples of these documents include;

- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, if applicable

- Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)

- Health Care Proxy

- Medical Power of Attorney (POA)

- Living Will

Using Emergency Medical Files:

Once you have gathered the above documents and records, copy them and assemble your folder. Be sure that this folder is put in an easily accessible place. This could be near an exit point, on the fridge, or near a phone. If you there are shared caregiving responsibilities with family members or professional in-home caregivers, inform them of this file’s existence and location.

These files should be given to paramedics responding to 911 calls, and should be brought along to any visits to an emergency room or urgent care clinic.

For seniors who spend ample time in their family members’ homes, consider having one of these folders available in each location as well.

Remember to update the contents of each folder as needed to ensure all medical information is up to date!

Complete Care Plan:

Consider using the CDC's free 'Complete Care Plan Form' template!

This is downloadable fillable form that allows you to insert all medical information such as those listed above that can be essential in case of emergencies.

Also available in Spanish: 'Plan De Cuidados Completo'

Additional Resources

To ensure you and your loved ones are prepared in case of an emergency


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