Sunday, August 31, 2014

Product Review: GuardianCall (This could save your life)

UPDATE: The product reviewed here is no longer in production, and I believe the company is out of business. I leave the following as it was written, as I think it has some informative thoughts even though at least one of the options is no longer available.

Readers of this blog already know that I suffered a near-fatal medical issue in the recent past. Part of the fall-out of that incident is that I take much more seriously the need to carry identification with me whenever I'm out there doing my thing, whether that's running, cycling, hiking, swimming, paddling ... well, you get the picture.

My recommendation: You should always have clear identification with you, including emergency contact information, and if possible a mobile phone. It's common sense, and you just never know when it might save your life.

With that in mind, I've been using a relatively new product/service called GuardianCall

GuardianCall has been impressive in a number of ways. I'll get to that soon, but first let's set the context with comparisons to competing products.

Most athletes already know about RoadID, if only because of the company's omnipresent advertising (in athletics magazines and often found on bib numbers at running races).  I like RoadID, I own one, I use it. In fact I've had one for a few years, well before I had to put any "significant medical history" information on it. But it's not a perfect solution. Read on.

I reviewed a competing product about one year ago called Go ID. It's a nifty idea because you make your own ID tags at home on your laser printer, and then attach them to your gear. Convenient, and relatively flexible. I had questions about durability, and when I added one of the tags to my already rather bulky Garmin GPS watch, it was a bit uncomfortable. For more details, please read my complete review.

Both the RoadID and Go ID have notable weaknesses in that the amount of information they can display is extremely limited, and frankly that display might be a worry for some folks who might not want their spouses's name and number along with a list of their current medications readily available for all to see. For example, perhaps some of you have had this experience: you are sitting at a table in a coffee house, reading and enjoying a warm mug of fresh-brewed java, and out of the corner of your eye you see the person next to you squinting at your wrist - you've forgotten to remove your RoadID, and they are trying to read your contact and medical details. Creepy.

I would be remiss, of course, if I did not mention Medic Alert, probably the oldest product of the bunch. You likely recall seeing late-night ads for this product, a piece of questionably-styled jewelry with your basic info and medical needs etched onto it. My mother has one, because she has a unique medical condition that's hard to diagnose quickly. She wears it 24/7, which is good for her. But a jangling metal chain on my wrist or flopping around my neck while running is just not for me, and the cost of the jewelry plus membership fees seems like the most-expensive option of all. Hmm.

All three of those options have one important thing in common: once the information is etched or written, it cannot be updated without creating a new item - that means either buying more pieces of jewelry, ordering updated replacement parts, or editing and printing new information. Now, I suppose that is not too much of a worry for folks who have no remarkable medical history, but for people like me this could add up to money and annoyances rather fast, and (except for Go ID) it could also mean waiting several days (or up to a few weeks) to have accurate information on hand.

Into this mix comes GuardianCall, with a unique twist on the solving the problem. In essence, you use a website to build out a detailed profile of your medical issues, emergency contact information, doctors, medications, etc. Then you receive from GuardianCall a set of tags and stickers that display a toll-free number and unique code that medical personnel can use to get whatever information they need, and fast. You add the tags to your shoes or watch band, and you put stickers on all of your usual portable possessions - your mobile phone, your wallet, your key ring, and whatever else you might usually have with you. In any situation in which you need assistance, emergency responders have access to detailed data via a toll-free phone call.  Pretty nifty. And any changes to my medications or condition can be updated immediately on my web profile - no need to re-order or re-print anything.

I signed up for the service a few weeks ago. It's easy to do, you pick a plan and away you go. By the way, you can sign up for 1, 2 or even a 4 person plan - so you can cover your family in one handy place. You can pay with credit card or even PayPal. Convenient.

GuardianCall sends you an email with instructions on how to proceed, then you build out a complete profile online. The interface was straightforward, and the sheer amount of information that you can enter is broad and pretty comprehensive. Not just one, but multiple emergency contacts, and they are all validated by GuardianCall to make sure that they agree to the role (take it from me: make sure to let your chosen contacts know it's coming, or they may think it's some kind of scam). I will admit that I got a little confused about how to access and add details to my wife's profile (we signed up for a 2 person account), and I suggest they add instructions for that to the FAQs on their website.

A few days later I received a packet of tags and stickers in the mail. I now have them affixed to everything I listed above, and more. Because I'm a heart attack risk, I feel much more confident leaving the house now, because should anything happen to me, emergency personnel would be able to figure out who I am, what they should do, and whom to call very quickly.

A few more thoughts about the GuardianCall approach:
  • Good for modern families, who are often scattered around different cities
  • Good for families with active parents and kids
  • Great for people who have medical conditions and take medications regularly, especially if there is any chance that those details can change over time
  • The ID tags are free, GuardianCall is in the service business, not the trinket business
  • No one gets access to your information without calling into the 24/7 service center, and being validated as a legitimate responder
  • Better than a tattoo! (certainly easier to edit)
So you've got a decision to make. Which product/service is best for you? Let's do a side-by-side comparison on some features and costs, then I'll offer my suggestions.

Hmm, that's quite a bit to digest, isn't it? Choices, choices! Isn't capitalism grand?

By the way, I put in the Contingencies line to illustrate some differences when it comes to elements of change over time - you may choose to skip those lines and just focus on the subtotal line in yellow.

Here are my suggestions - please take them or leave them, after all I'm just some random blogger - you should make up your own mind of course and get what works best for you.

1. If you are bargain-hunting, have no big medical issues, and you like the DIY approach, choose Go ID.
2. If you are concerned about yourself or your elderly and/or sickly relatives who are not very active, get a bracelet to wear 24/7. Choose based on price if you like (if you think facts could change or the bracelet could get lost, use GuardianCall). If you or your relative really, really want a metal piece of "jewelry", go for MedicAlert.
3. If you are active and healthy and always remember to wear your bracelet, plus you never lose anything and the facts of your identity and medical needs don't change, RoadID is a good choice.
4. If you are concerned about privacy and confidentiality, want the comfort of a 24/7 service center and family notification, and/or if your facts tend to change over time (whether that's address, medications, conditions, doctors, etc.) then GuardianCall is your best best.

Of course, you could be like me and have several of the above choices, using them all as the situation warrants!

The bottom line from me to you: get yourself some kind of ID and wear it while on your adventures. It could very well save your life, and that's a worthwhile investment regardless of the product you choose.

Be well.

Full disclosures: GuardianCall provided me with a free account in order to use and evaluate the service. In return I agreed to write a review, but stated that my review would be my own honest opinion, and would include both pros and cons. I will not receive any other services or goods from the company. I had similar terms with Go ID. I have received nothing from RoadID nor MedicAlert. My evaluation and recommendations are mine alone, and by their very nature amateur. Still, I do my best!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recovery Week Nine: 4 Reasons to be Happy

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson. One might consider him a memoirist and/or humorist, but I just find his writing engaging and he makes me chuckle. In his book Notes from a Small Island (1995), he shares a list of  three reasons never to be unhappy. Please read the book (especially if you are an American who's spent any significant time in the UK) to flesh these out, but his list boils down to:
  1. " ... you were born. This was in itself a remarkable achievement."
  2. " ... you are alive. For the tiniest moment in the span of eternity you have the miraculous privilege to exist."
  3. " ... you have plenty to eat. You live in a time of peace."
One could take issue with any of these, of course. And I am especially aware that number three is simply not true for a significant portion of our human population. I think that Mr. Bryson was addressing primarily his readers (through himself, in a way) and not trying to expound universal truths. I think it's probably also relatively safe to say that if you are actually reading this, you're probably doing okay in terms of daily caloric intake and lack of gun fire in your immediate vicinity. That is not meant in any way to down play the horrors of any past, current, or future violence anywhere on the planet. Actually, it's meant to emphasize how lucky many of us are that we can write and read online blog posts instead of worrying about basic safety and shelter and water and food. We should never take that privilege for granted, and we should use that realization to increase our general sense of happiness.

I'd like to add a fourth item of my own. I don't think it's profound or even particularly impressive. But it's the kind of thing that helps me remain positive, happy, and optimistic about my tomorrows. Maybe you too.

   4. You are connected to other people.

I can't really define "connected" very well here. I am using it to cover a range of things, from deep and devoted love, through distant relatives, to business-only associates - and just about everything in between. But life is happier, richer, and more satisfying when you have a sense of the intricate web of relationships that is woven all around you. People need people. We are social animals, we are happiest in our herd.

My herd has nearly always been "runners". Now, as I adapt to a new normal, my familiar herd is out-pacing me and I fear I'm falling behind. But what's amazing is that all I really need to do is to open my eyes to the complete herd in its full range - not just those few who are prancing away like gazelles, but also all of those who find joy and meaning in simple movement, pace-per-mile be damned. Being a runner is a self-defined identity, and our herd has always accepted any member who says "I'm in". Yet another thing to love about our sport.

I'll be what competitive cyclists call "pack fodder" now, just a face in the crowd - no longer aiming to win, place, or show in any races. Considering the alternative, I'll definitely take it. One step at a time.