Medical Identification Tattoos

By Dan Limmer

We get quite a few questions that come in to us here at Limmer Creative. Over the past year we have had several questions about using tattoos instead of medical alert devices. A quick search on the topic found that medical identification tattoos appear to be quite popular.

The question is whether they are as identifiable as a medical alert device.

In a July, 2014 USA Today article, Don Lundy from the National Association of EMTs says “We’re not going to stop to read a tattoo in an emergency situation…” I disagree. It isn’t unusual for me to disagree with the NAEMT. And to be fair, they aren’t the only organization that has made a similar statement.

I disagree for a number of reasons. First, I think that tattoos are as easy to spot as a bracelet—especially when they are designed and applied properly. I also think there may be a generational issue at play. Tattoos seem to be more popular in younger generations. We old timers may just need to get with the game. Just because we wouldn’t think to tattoo the fact that we are a diabetic on our wrist doesn’t make it invalid.

Check out this Pinterest page for some of good examples of tattoos I feel confident I would spot—and examples of tattoos that are ineffective because the art actually disguises the disease or condition.

Pacemaker tattoo Contributed by BrendaaHayes

Contributed by BrendaaHayes

If you are considering a tattoo as a medical alert device I would like you to consider the following:

  1. Put it in a visible place. I believe the wrist is most visible—and a place we would look for medical identification devices. The torso is popular but may not be exposed in a medical patient. This means it may not be seen until the hospital—if at all.
  2. The caveat to #1 is that everyone will see it. You can never take it off.
  3. Don’t let the art overshadow the message. One of the big complaints about medical identification bracelets is that they aren’t really stylish. Tattoos will likely have the same issue.
  4. Some sources say it may not be identifiable as medical identification, yet they acknowledge that it is better than nothing at all.
  5. Make sure your medical condition doesn’t prohibit tattoos (e.g. because of bleeding or infection that may result)

If you are an EMS provider reading this I have one piece of advice for you:

Consider tattoos when you are looking for medical identification “devices.” They are out there—and some are very cool.