Like many in the “sandwich generation” who find themselves caring for their children and their parents simultaneously, Julie Slayton didn’t realize how little she knew about her mother until it was almost too late. In 2009, soon after her mother moved from Florida to live across the street from Slayton’s family in Huntsville, panic set in.
Her mother had begun feeling very ill, and Slayton went across the street to check on her. Emergency services were necessary, and when Slayton called 911, she didn’t know the answers to any of the questions the operator asked. What is the patient’s height? Weight? What medications is she taking? What are the dosages? What is she taking them for? Slayton felt helpless.
“Until you’ve been faced with a medical emergency, you can’t appreciate how it feels to be unable to help someone you love, ” Slayton says. When the paramedics arrived, they asked many of the same questions, and Slayton didn’t know the answers. At the hospital, she was asked to fill out a battery of forms — and she didn’t know what to write down in most of the blanks. “I even got her birthday wrong, ” Slayton says. “I felt like I was in quicksand.”
After her mother survived emergency surgery for a ruptured colon that night, Slayton made a promise to herself that she would never be in that position again. “I stood there looking at her, and I felt so guilty because I hadn’t been able to help them help her, ” she says.
That night, Slayton learned the importance of maintaining personal medical records and making them available to healthcare providers. And now she’s using that lesson to help others with My Instant Medical Information (MIMI), a personal medical records software that she designed and began marketing in March. While the business is taking off, Slayton’s original intention was simply to develop a product that could help her keep track of her mother’s medical history, and eventually, that of her husband and children.
After that first trip to the emergency room, Slayton began developing a basic spreadsheet that included her mother’s various medications and dosages, doctors’ names and contact information, surgical history and other important information. After going through numerous surgeries and hospitalizations with her mother, Slayton learned that she could bring her mother’s MIMI and avoid filling out the customary forms. If an ambulance was called, the emergency medical technicians could grab a copy of her mother’s MIMI and avoid spending time asking questions or waiting for Slayton to gather her mother’s medications. “Every time a doctor, nurse, or social worker saw it, they said it was great and that it made their jobs so much easier to be able to see my mother’s history, ” Slayton says. “Her MIMI has saved my mother’s life on more than one occasion. One doctor told me, ‘When we don’t know a person’s history, we have to guess. Nobody wants to be in that position.’”
One day, as Slayton waited in a doctor’s office for her mother, “a sweet little lady next to me asked what the MIMI was and where she could get one, ” Slayton says. “She said it would be very useful to her because she has severe arthritis and it’s very difficult for her to fill out forms all the time.” That conversation led Slayton to make MIMI public.
Before launching the product, she consulted with a number of doctors and healthcare professionals to get their input about what questions should be asked and how it should read. Slayton says the extensive input from medical professionals helps ensure that the MIMI product is useful and practical. She worked with a fulfillment company in Mississippi to develop the final product, which is a software program available via download or on CD.
When an individual purchases and downloads MIMI, the product will ask a series of questions, recording the answers to make a personalized medical history. While the history will reside on a hard drive to be easily updated, Slayton recommends that customers keep some hard copies available. “A lot of people who live alone keep a copy on their refrigerator, ” she says. “I keep copies available of my MIMI and those of my children. If the need arose, my husband wouldn’t be able to answer questions about me or my children without our MIMIs.”
Since MIMI became available in March, the Huntsville and Madison County community has embraced the product. Madison City Schools have ordered MIMI software to be awarded as the gift for each “teacher of the month” during this year. And a local hospital has requested MIMI marketing materials to be placed throughout the facility.
While she’s pleased with the success of MIMI, Slayton sees herself first as a caregiver — to her mother, who now lives with the family, and her children — and then as a business owner. From that perspective, she is most interested in making people aware of the importance of a personal health record, and she regularly shares that message with others. “Being able to go to a routine wellness exam and hand your doctor your PHR helps him or her make better decisions about your healthcare, ”
Slayton says. “When you are a caregiver for someone else, being able to have their healthcare information available will save you time at the doctor’s office and possibly save their lives. When your kids go off to college, you can feel better knowing they can take their complete medical history with them in case they need healthcare attention.”
“It’s not your doctor’s problem to keep up with everything that’s ever happened to you and every specialist you’ve seen and every medication you’re on. It’s your health and you have to take responsibility for it. I am passionate about this because I know from firsthand experience what a difference it makes to arm yourself with information.”
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Huntsville.
Nancy Mann Jackson