(Photos courtesy of Texas Health Forth Worth)
“What we found on our units is that patients often don’t arrive with the right information on their meds or other details we need for their treatment,” Hernandez says. “Or they or a family member will run a ‘scoop and grab’ in which they grab all the meds in the medicine cabinet and bring them to the hospital. That’s great, but some meds may be expired or a doctor might have changed the dosage or prescription. We see it again and again. And the dangers of not having this information can be profound.”
Medicine vials containing two stickers imprinted with “Vial of LIFE” are distributed to community members. Inside the vial is a form and a flier that explains how the program works. Participants or their family members take a few minutes to fill out a form with up-to-date information on medications, allergies and recent medical issues. There’s also a spot on the form for indicating if a person has advanced directives in place and where these orders are located. Hernandez says personal information such as Social Security numbers are not requested on the form.
The completed form is stored in the vial, which is then placed inside the refrigerator. One red sticker adheres to the front door of the residence, while the other sticker is placed on the refrigerator door. The stickers indicate to first responders trained on the program that the patient is a program participant and the medicine vial can be found in the refrigerator. The first responders then can retrieve the vial and use the information in their immediate treatment of the patient and bring the information to the hospital with the patient.
After all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed, the program was ready to kick off in September 2009. Distribution began with employees for their family members and quickly spread to community events. Twenty thousand vials have been distributed in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since, with more being produced on a regular basis.
“The community was hungry for this,” she says. “People are asking us if they can take this program and the vials to their churches, senior dances, fundraisers and so on. ‘Can I bring 100 vials? Can I bring 200 vials?’ is what we’re often asked.”
Nurses on Hernandez’s med/surg unit came together to produce the vials. “We would have assembly parties to put the vials together,” she says. “Also our senior volunteers have been assembling vials and helping out. So many people help us to pass them out.” The original goal was to distribute 100,000 to saturate the community and make the program effective, which requires financing. Although it’s not a hospital-run or financed program, the Texas Health system is more than supportive of these nurses’ efforts. The hospital foundation set up a trust account for donations, which come from different sources, including employees, and more funding is coming in. Hernandez says they were prepared to solicit funds from local businesses, but the foundation helped out with start-up costs and more to cover the vials, which add up to a little less than a dollar each.
“A nurse can spend an hour verifying a patient’s medical history and medications,” Hernandez says. “The vials save them time and, therefore, money — much more than the cost to produce the vial.”
Hernandez and her team hope to take the program to every hospital within Texas Health system. “I’m amazed at how many people have said they want to help in our efforts,” Hernandez says. “They’re willing to help because they see the value in it. We’re just so honored to bring Vial of LIFE to our community.”
To request vials, call 877-THR-WELL. To make a donation, contact Laura Quenette McWhorter at the Texas Health Harris Methodist Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sallie Jimenez is a regional editor.