Medical tattoos may not be as binding as a legal document -


Medical tattoos may not be as binding as a legal document

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Many tattoos are displayed on an individual's body as an expression of their personality, but some tattoos are placed there to save or end a person's life.

The demand for medical tattoos is growing in the United States.

Ink art also offers instructions vital during a medical emergency and they take the place of a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Scott Black has type 1 diabetes because his body is unable to produce insulin. That's why he opted to have a medical tattoo. 

"I'm just not a jewelry person," Black said. 

Since he's also not willing to risk going into a diabetic coma, he has strategically marked his health hazard right where a paramedic might take his pulse.

Whether it's for diabetes, an allergy, or a 'do not resuscitate' order, visible placement is pivotal in a medical emergency which is why most medical tattoos appear on the arms, wrist or chest.

Chad Stewart is a tattoo artist at Ace Custom Tattoo in Charlotte, NC.

"I've actually had a guy that got it right here so when they lay him down, it's the first thing they see," Stewart said while pointing to his chest. "It says D-N-R which means 'do not resuscitate' me."

Paramedics America Now spoke to said they trained to scan a victim from head to toe, but they are not trained to look for tattoos.

"We look for bracelets, we look for documents, we look for prescription bottles, this tattoo trend is not something that's been passed down to the medical community as a whole," pointed out Tony Pattillo, an operations supervisor for Mecklenburg EMS Agency

Furthermore, the American Medical Association does not provide specific guidelines for medical tattoos.

Without a universal standard, paramedics say they wouldn't know where to look or even know if the message was of a medical nature.

Even paramedics have the same exact medical emblems tattooed on their skin. In their case, it's often a display of professional pride, and not necessarily a medical warning.

Since medical tattoos are not in a first responder's training and individual designs vary in shape, size, color and location, responders say trying to interpret a tattoo during an emergency could be difficult, if not impossible.

For example, a tattoo with the letters DNR could mean 'do not resuscitate', but it could also represent someone's personal initials.

Since DNR orders vary by state, it's more likely the only ink that really matters is what's on a legal document signed by you and your doctor.

Without paperwork, paramedics say your DNR tattoo would be null and void.

"We're not denouncing that tattoo, I'm saying that's something the medical community needs to have a hand in," and Patillo asked, "How do we get that communication across all levels to ensure excellent patient care?"

Stewart has created several medical tattoos. He says these tattoos must not only be aesthetically creative, but also medically accurate so they get a second glance from a medical professional. 

"It would make them stop for a second and ask someone--a family member of some sort--or someone who's actually going to know, rather than just go on with whatever they're going to do," Stewart said. 

During an emergency, paramedics say they do consider every clue they can find pertaining to a patient.

Since medical alert bracelets are the standard, paramedics caution against having a false sense of security in skin-deep symbols pertaining to any medical issues you may have. 

Still, for people wanting to make their health issues a permanent mark, medical tattoos are a new way of sharing essential medical emergency details.

Paramedics caution you probably shouldn't make this permanent until after you consult with your physician and understand what the laws are in your state regarding medical tattoos.

Additional Information:

The following information is from an article entitled, "Forget ID bracelets, some getting medical tattoos" <>.

  • Medical bracelets are commonly worn to note allergies, chronic diseases and end-of-life wishes.
  • Medical tattoos don't appear to carry much legal weight and it is unclear if they will be taken seriously and/or honored. They are a simple and permanent way to give rescuers important health details.              
  • There is growing concern about not having uniformity of medical images used for medical tattoos.
  • The American Medical Association does not specifically address medical tattoos in their guidelines, but many groups wish they would so there would be image consistency.              
  • Laws on do-not-resuscitate orders can vary widely from state to state. In the state of Missouri, for example, the law does not even address medical tattoos at all.               
  • Experts recommend you have official paperwork specifying your DNR wishes before getting a medical tattoo. 
  • Responders say that even by placing a medical tattoo in the best location, it could be covered by clothes or blood after an accident making it hard to find.
  • Responders say if you get a DNR tattoo, you should also carry around a copy of your official paperwork..

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