23 June 2007

Keep important medical and legal documents handy on a keychain USB drive

Kate came up with a smart "paperwork" hack:

Because we both take medications, and both have living wills and powers of attorney on each other, we decided to get keychain USB drives to keep them handy.  We're going to be taking in foster children soon, and it will be good to have those records easily available also.


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There are companies that take this a step further and provide a USB drive with software to make this easier for the technologically impaired.
http://www.e-health-insider.com/news/item.cfm?ID=1147 and http://headaches.about.com/od/productreviews/gr/ehealthkey.htm have articles about this idea.
If you do this, you should label the USB so emergency responders know your medical information is on it.
Medic Alert sells one here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000BWZ49Y/qid%3D1131724144/sr%3D11-1/ref%3Dsr_11_1/103-0256936-1858275

It should be noted that (like all digital media) flash drives do indeed wear out over time:
USB drive manufacturers give no disclosure as to an expected lifespan.

The more updates you make (I'm thinking specifically about foster children's files here) the sooner they will fail.

Back up all the drive's data regularly and periodically test your drives and make sure all the files are viewable (but don't hit save when you close the file).

I was sharing this with my husband, and he mentioned the fact that you wouldn't want to take the chance of losing these; it's probably sensitive information that you wouldn't want just anyone to have.

What a great use for a USB drive!

I would suggest that you should be VERY careful with putting that much personal information in digital form that can get lost.

The recent missing laptop scandals of the US Veteran's Administration and various corporations should serve as warnings. Unsecured personal information can fall into the wrong hands.

To guard against that, I would suggest using a free open source tool like Truecrypt (http://www.truecrypt.org/) to encrypt at least the medical records and store them behind a strong password. That way, if you should lose your thumb drive, you don't have to worry about the data that is on it.

Brilliant idea, Kate. Can I borrow your car keys? There are a few credit cards I'd like to open in your name!

Seriously, this is a great idea if the USB drive is locked up somewhere apart from the original paper documents. But having this sensitive information on a keychain is beyond stupid.

This is exactly the kind of thing that sounds great... until you actually think about it. Seriously... Would you carry copies of all of that stuff around with you in your purse? No! That is an identity thief's dream come true...

I concur with Jim, that encryption of these files are essential to protect oneself in the event the fob falls into the wrong hands.

But using Truecrypt (which I do for sensitive files on my computer) defeats the accessiblity of the files in the event of an emergency. The likelyhood of emergency services having Truecrypt on their systems to use to extract the data is remote.

GPGP or PK SecureZip are much better alternatives since you can easily create "self extracting" encrypted and compressed files.

I would simply drag the documents into a folder labled "ICE" (in case of emergency). Open SecureZip or GPGP drag and drop the ICE folder into the program and follow the instructions for creation of the self extracting encrypted file, using a password known to you and anyone else that you feel should have access to that data. After creation, drag and drop the newly created ICE.exe onto the fob. You can even label the fob with a Sharpie with ICE.

Most hospital and emergency service people check cell phones for victims who can't speak and one of the first items they search for is an ICE number. Your ICE contact should know the password to the encrypted files and should be able to tell the emergency services people how to access the files on the fob.

My ICE files are on the memory card of my Treo, encrypted and self extracting with the proper password.

The USB tool is a great idea. It provides a lot more data than an ID bracelet, and should be able to store critical medical data about me and my family.

Sounds like a great idea, of you combine this.

Put some basic info on the stick, stuff that could help right away, and the more detailed info in an encrypted file.

The put the password next to you ICE number in your mobile phone. This would allow emergency people to access it. ( Since you would carry both ), but would be useless to someone if you would lose you stick.

The question then becomes, what info doesn't need to be encrypted? Your name, your phone numer, home adres?

At what point are we going from basic info to privacy details?

I chose truecrypt because you can include the truecrypt program on the stick as well and it should work to open the documents in case of need.

Brilliant guys. Jim, I agree. It's really important that people understand what a strong password is. Encryption is essential.

I think this is a great idea. My mother carries around a hand written list of all of her medications. She has fibromyalsia and has on occasion suffered dizzy spells in public when my father or I wasn't present. I feel that having basic health information (list of medications, medical problems such as FM or high blood pressure, allergies) would be suitible for a USB drive with out giving away to much information. Additionally, if you have more than one child it can get confusing in a case of emergency to remember which child had chicken pox or who had mono or that the child in the emergency is allergic to a certain medication. Having the USB drive and being able to provide it to medical staff would help.

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