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MedicAlert to arm patients with USB drives

Health care company introduces a USB device that will store detailed medical information for its customers. Photo: Totable med records

MedicAlert, best known for its health care information bracelets, plans to offer a USB device that stores personal medical records.

The nonprofit company unveiled the product Wednesday as part of this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. MedicAlert will begin selling the device, dubbed the Personal HealthKey, some time during the first half of 2005. The product will use a USB flash drive made by SanDisk and software from CapMed, a division of Bio-Imaging Technologies. The device will work with any USB-capable computer.

Much as the MedicAlert's trademark bracelets have become a routine part of the checklist used by health care workers to investigate a patient's medical history, MedicAlert is hoping that the USB (Universal Serial Bus) device will establish a ubiquitous presence within the industry. Like the bracelets, the Personal HealthKey catalogs an individual's health-related issues, such as chronic medical conditions or drug allergies. Unlike the bracelets, the new product will offer detailed medical information, not just alerts to one or two major conditions.

MedicAlert said the device will be of particular value to first responders such as paramedics and hospital physicians because they will be able to insert the USB drive into any computer and immediately gain access to an overview of a person's information.

Updates to the health records stored on the device can be made by a patient and other people authorized by the person to do so, such as a physicians or pharmacists.

The Turlock, Calif.-based company said the Personal HealthKey will range in price from $50 to $75, based on applications selected for use by a customer and the chosen storage capacity of a particular USB drive. MedicAlert will also provide online backup of the information stored on the devices in its databases, with support from its emergency response center.