6 Things to Do When Visiting the Emergency Room
Follow these preparation steps from an emergency medicine physician to make your visit go smoothly.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 130 million emergency department patient visits occurred in 2018.
Due to COVID-19, visits to the emergency department are quite different than they were just over a year ago. From social distancing requirements to masks and visitor restrictions, the emergency department is a different experience than it was before the pandemic. As a practicing emergency physician, I have a few suggestions to make sure the visit is less stressful for the patient and their loved ones.
Whether you are planning ahead for yourself, an elderly family member or child, keep these quick tips in mind should an emergency happen and you find yourself on the way to the hospital.
1. Bring important health information.
When minutes count, it’s helpful to have your medical history and information in writing.
Have a list of your doctor’s contact information, your medical issues, allergies and medications and doses you are taking. Keep the list written down on a piece of paper in your purse or wallet, on a cell phone or download one of the many smartphone apps available. Make sure to keep the list updated when medications change.
Health systems keep electronic medical records on patients, but if an ambulance takes a patient to a different hospital than where they normally go, that hospital might not have those important health records immediately available.
2. Ask your physician to call ahead.
Many patients come to the emergency department after being seen in person or via telemedicine by their primary physician. If you are coming in on the advice of your physician, ask them to call the emergency department to let the staff know why you are coming.
This does not guarantee you will be seen sooner, as all emergency department patients are triaged, or sorted, with the most serious conditions seen first. However, having your doctor call ahead can ensure that the most accurate information about your condition is communicated with the emergency department staff. Many patients have complicated medical histories, and this quick phone call can result in a clearer picture of your health condition and a better overall experience.
3. Bring important documents, or have them on file.
Many older adults have durable power of attorney for healthcare forms or other legal paperwork. Plan ahead and ensure that these forms are completed. Some documents may require the assistance of an attorney or the assistance of a notary public. Having these documents completed and on file with your physician and hospital is important. Having an extra copy with you can be important as well.
4. ICE your phone and keep it charged.
Save important numbers to your phone, either in the phone’s emergency contact section, or add the label “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) in front of names of nearby family members or friends who might be able to provide information. Emergency department staff know to look for these numbers to help you contact loved ones for important information.
Beyond contact information, a reality of modern life is the reliance upon our phones for other critical information. Insurance details and other important documents may be referenced on our electronic devices. Keeping them charged and ready is more important than ever. While most emergency departments may have a way to help you charge your phone, I recommend bringing your own to keep it topped off.
5. Health insurance cards.
I have seen people waste time looking for their insurance information at home when they’re having a heart attack, but think they are having chest pain. Those minutes are lost and would have been better spent going directly to the emergency department. Do not delay care during an emergency to look for insurance information.
Emergency departments will see patients regardless of their insurance status. If you make it a point to carry those cards in your wallet, purse or bag at all times, you should be ready in the event of an emergency. But don’t worry if you don’t have it with you. Don’t risk your health. Insurance information can be checked later.
6. Speak up early.
Especially in a time when family members may not be able to sit with patients in the emergency department, it is important to share the medical concerns with medical personnel – and do it early.
I once spent an hour evaluating an elderly patient for a concern about leg pain. I was ready to discharge the patient when a family member pulled me in the hallway to tell me they were actually more concerned about the patient’s ability to live safely at home and told her to come have her leg checked. This led to an honest conversation between the patient and family during which we addressed all of the concerns and ensured the patient’s safety at home.
While this type of intervention is not possible in our current pandemic state, proactive communication with your family members and the triage personnel can help avoid these types of delays. Be honest and upfront with your loved ones and the medical professionals treating them, so we can address the issues most concerning to you. Issues such as the one above often require social workers, physical therapists and others. Letting us know as soon as possible will help us get the right people to help.