LYNNWOOD – Shelby Ashley was in the throes of an acute asthma attack, unable to talk or breathe as she was rushed onto a medical helicopter and flown to the hospital.
She couldn’t tell the paramedics her medical history, whether she was allergic to any medicines and other vitally important information.
So she handed the medics a keychain-sized computer storage drive, which they plugged into a laptop computer. All the information they needed about her was quickly on-screen and was transmitted ahead to the emergency room.
Which is why she and business partner Susan Macomber believe in their product, Med-A-Drive, a personal health records device.
Their small firm, Anamesis LLC, is run mostly out of Macomber’s apartment. But their product joins other, similar products in the still-new field of personal health records.
For the past few years, government, the insurance industry and others have urged a conversion of paper medical records into electronic form. That makes them easier for insurance firms and doctors alike to collect and review patients’ medical histories.
Likewise, having a way for patients to carry around their collected medical records can cut down on potentially life-threatening mistakes.
“It’s useful, to have all your information on a USB drive,” said Jason Schneier, a doctor at Edmonds’ Puget Sound Gastroenterology who’s seen a demonstration of the Med-A-Drive device. “We’d like to see more of this.”
Ashley and Macomber, both with experience in the insurance industry and acquaintances since the early 1990s, have carried around their personal medical records in one form or another for years.
“She carried her medical history on a Zip drive, and I did the same thing,” Macomber said. That sparked the idea of developing a better way.
After retiring from their insurance jobs, they concentrated on developing Med-A-Drive. They researched available technology, interviewed scores of doctors, nurses and medical staff members and found a software writer. They officially began selling the first Med-A-Drives, essentially a USB flash memory drive with a Windows-compatible software program installed, in August.
A user plugs the drive into a computer’s USB outlet and then is guided by the drive’s software program to fill out all the pertinent medical history and records information. Once it’s saved, the information can be reviewed by plugging it into any other Windows PC. Extra space on the drive can be used to save other vital records or documents.
Macomber and Ashley are marketing the product on their Web site and through brochures in medical clinics and doctors’ offices. They’re also visiting doctors and other health professionals in Washington and California, where Ashley lives part time, to spread the word. They’re considering doing an infomercial next year.
Ashley said doctors have been receptive, though many medical offices have such outdated software that they might not be able to use the Med-a-Drives right away. She said her visits have pointed out to her that many physicians still need to leap into the digital medical records age.
That transition is coming, said Lynne Dunbrack, program director at Health Industry Insights.
“If you look at the aging baby boomer population, you’re going to be in a situation where people are taking multiple drugs, seeing multiple specialists,” Dunbrack said that will make the importance of coherent and available medical records even greater.
“The hurricanes of 2005 really pointed out how critical it is to have access to your medical records,” she added. “Certainly, if we all had (flash memory) key fobs, we’d all have that sort of information and more at hand.”
Though a few big companies, such as MedicAlert, are offering competing products to Med-a-Drives, the industry is still in a startup stage, offering small firms a chance to compete.
“It’s a matter of coming up with the right solution and the one that will get consumer acceptance,” Dunbrack said.
One of the big issues with consumers is medical privacy. Some firms offer online medical history sites, where information has to be kept safe from hackers. But the keychain drives also have risks. If they’re lost, for example, someone else could view or even steal vital health and insurance-related information.
It’s a delicate balance, however. Too much protection makes the drive useless in an emergency. That’s why the information on the Med-a-Drive isn’t password protected, Macomber said.
“We discussed that. The reason we didn’t do it is if you’re in a medical emergency and you can’t talk, the paramedics won’t be able to access it,” she said.
She said she treats her Med-a-Drive like her house and car keys or her wallet – items that are too important to lose.
Macomber said she’s enjoying her new enterprise, which has basically become a new career in her mid-60s.
“I love this,” she said. “I’m having an absolute ball.”
And Ashley, who credits her Med-a-Drive with helping save her life during her asthma attack, said she takes it everywhere.
“It’s on my keychain,” she said
Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.