7 ways to make your ER visit better
No one wants to have to visit the Emergency Center at the hospital. By its very nature, it’s a place that makes people anxious. But, in a life-threatening situation, it’s the best way to get the proper care.
While you may not be able to prepare for a trip to the Emergency Center (EC), there are things that you can do to make your visit go more smoothly and help create a positive experience.
We asked emergency physician Ryan Bemis, MD, of Falmouth Hospital Emergency Physicians for his top seven tips for getting the most out of your EC visit.
1. Share information: Be prepared to give as much information as possible about your condition – and be prepared to do it more than once. You will have to give information to the check-in nurse, the triage nurse and again to the doctor. It may feel redundant, but it serves an important purpose.
“We are all part of a team and we each view that information differently,” Dr. Bemis said. “It’s important for me to hear the information because I have to use it primarily to rule out anything emergent or serious that I need to get directly from the patient.
2. List of medications: Bring a list of your current medications. Obviously, this might be impossible to do if you have to call 911 for help. For that reason, Dr. Bemis recommends writing this information on a piece of paper or notecard before any emergency happens. If you keep it in your purse or wallet, then you will always have this important information with you when you need it.
“Often it is tough for patients to remember all their medications, especially with the population we see,” he said. “They are often on multiple medications and sometimes they are prescribed by multiple physicians, so a list of medications and a prepared list of medical issues is nice.”
There are several reasons why this is important. First, the doctors don’t want to prescribe any medication that may have a negative interaction with a medication you are already on. Plus, sometimes your symptoms could be caused directly by a medication, especially if it is a new prescription or one for which the dosage was just increased. Be sure to include on this list any over-the-counter medications that you regularly take.
3. Your medical history: Don’t assume that the hospital has copies of your health records even if your other doctors are part of Cape Cod Healthcare. At this time, the electronic records are not shared between the various doctors and the hospital. The only records EC doctors will be able to access are those from previous visits to the EC. That’s why it’s important for now to bring a detailed list of your past medical history. A new system that will integrate electronic records across the board is scheduled to launch in the fall.
4. Update while you are there: If anything about your status changes while you are waiting in the EC, do not be shy about telling both the nurses and the doctor. Symptoms can wax and wane, so if that chest pain you initially had went away, but now is back, its crucial for you to inform your medical care team. The same is true if you have any questions or concerns. They are there to take care of you and they want to know anything that can affect your care.
“Sometimes people come in and their symptoms will go away,” Dr. Bemis said. “If they come back it’s important for us to re-evaluate the patient. Even if they just let us know their pain is back, we will do things differently, either for testing or treatment. So, make sure you know where the call bell is and, if the nurse doesn’t give it to you, ask for it.”
5. Be patient: Once the Emergency Center doctor gets the information about the patient’s condition and symptoms, he or she puts in orders for laboratory tests, blood tests, X-rays, CAT scans and whatever other diagnostics may be warranted.
“Then we have to wait for the test results,” Dr. Bemis said. “The imaging has to be read by a radiologist and oftentimes decisions can’t be made until we get that information back. I try to let the patient know what tests could take the longest, but the test that gives us the most information is often the one that is going to keep them there the longest. Sometimes it can take an hour or two or even longer, depending on how busy it is.”
6. OK to take over-the counter medication: Patients don’t need to suffer unnecessarily in order for the doctor to be able to diagnose the problem. If you have a horrible headache, it’s okay to take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil or Tylenol at home before you go to the hospital. The same is true if your child has a high fever.
“This is a common misperception,” Dr. Bemis said. “Patients think that if they take something before they come in or if the paramedics give them some pain medication then that would mask symptoms. It’s really not the case. Especially for children who have fevers. It’s okay to treat the fever before you come in. If you tell us they had a fever of 104 degrees, we will believe you.”
7. Understand follow-up instructions: Upon your discharge, the hospital will give you forms with generic information on it that you should read, but also pay special attention to the hand-written portion that the doctor has filled out. That’s where physicians like Dr. Bemis put the most important information. It always includes directions to follow up with your primary care physician for further evaluation and instructions to return to the hospital if symptoms worsen or come back.