Unregulated rise of medical alert tattoos stirs debate

Unregulated rise of medical alert tattoos stirs debate

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Ben Roberts got his diabetes alert tattoo four years ago after spending more than $1,000 on traditional medical alert bracelets and necklaces.(Photo: Courtesy of Ben Roberts)

Ben Roberts, a 33-year-old from Fowlerville, Mich., estimates that medical bracelets and necklaces have cost him more than $1,000 since he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6.

Frustrated, he headed to a local tattoo parlor four years ago. "It’s a negative thing to say, but diabetes isn’t going away any time soon," he said. "You might as well get a tattoo."

Today, "Diabetic, Type 1" is tattooed underneath the six-pointed "Star of Life" with a snake running through it, the traditional symbol for emergency medical services.

"It’s hard to miss," Roberts said. "I’m happy with it — I’ve even gotten compliments from doctors and paramedics."

Researchers and tattoo artists agree more people like Roberts are replacing traditional medical ID bracelets, which average around $30 at Walmart, with medical alert tattoos.

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But the lack of regulation of the tattoos — which are intended to warn emergency medical personnel about diseases from diabetes to Alzheimer’s — means first responders don’t always pay attention to them.
"We’re not going to stop to read a tattoo in an emergency situation," said Don Lundy, president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians . "They can be complicated and hard to read. Medical bracelets and necklaces are what stand out."There’s no hard data on the number of people opting for medical alert tattoos, but Saleh Aldasouqi, a diabetes expert in Michigan, said a quick Google search shows how popular they’ve become in recent years.Aldasouqi said despite this popularity, there isn’t any medical literature on the tattoos. He has been pushing doctors to start talking about the tattoos to ensure they’re done safely and effectively."Tattoo artists are artists, so it’s hard to mandate any one type of design," said Aldasouqi. […]