How to protect yourself in the ER

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More than 130 million times a year, people in the U.S end up at the emergency room—often with non-life-threatening problems that can mean hours of waiting for treatment. What can you do to minimize your time and maximize your quality of care?

  1. Don’t believe that an ambulance arrival will get you treated more quickly.

The ambulance will get you into the hospital pretty fast. But just because the EMTs, get you into the ER and not in the waiting room, you will still see a triage nurse, who will rate the urgency of your problem from 1 (being the most urgent) to 5 (non-life threatening).

  1. Have your doctor call ahead.

If your physician believes you need urgent attention, he can call the ER and let them know you are coming.  Some hospitals have a “pre-expect” form that can be filled out about a patient and his condition when a doctor calls.

  1. Don’t lie!

Fib about seeing blood in your vomit and you may get into an exam room faster. The bad news? Your “symptom” may send ER staff performing unneccessary tests about other ailments. That could mean more tests and more of everyone’s time wasted—including yours.

  1. Bring your paperwork (and more).

Recent test results and a list of doctors, medical conditions, allergies and current medications (or the drugs themselves) are real time savers. Also, bring another person who can ask questions, take notes, and argue on your behalf.

  1. Keep your story short but complete.

Physicians can diagnose most of the time just on what a patient tells them. So, if possible, think up a simple description of what your problem is and include other relevant factors.

  1. Squeak but don’t scream.

Getting upset at the ER staff generally won’t get you anywhere—other than on their bad side. Come expecting to wait. If no one has popped in to your exam room for ages, touch base with the charge nurse or hit the call button and politely tell him so. If time in the waiting room has become intolerable, talk to the triage nurse. Especially if you’re feeling worse. Triage understands people’s conditions change and may very well raise your priority.

  1. Enlist an ally.

If you’re feeling lost in the shuffle and aren’t getting anywhere with the triage or charge nurse, ask to see the social worker on duty. They may not be able to get you treated sooner. But they are generally very nice, can calm everyone down and help ease communication between you and the ER staff.

  1. Go to the right place.

Do a little homework now, especially if you have kids or any preexisting conditions. Some hospital ERs are better prepared than others to treat certain conditions, like strokes, burns, and mental health issues. Some also have designated pediatric ERs—where you’ll find specialists who treat children and a more family-friendly vibe all together. If you call an ambulance, you can request a specific hospital if it’s within their driving radius. If you travel by car, you’ll know where to head.

  1. Question just about everything.

If you’re told you need a test or procedure, ask what it’s for and what your other treatment options might be. As a patient, you have the right to know your treatment options and that you have the right to choose.

  1. Track names, track Times.

As soon as they slap on that ID bracelet, request the name of your charge nurse, your assigned doctor, and that shift’s attending physician. These are the people to ask for and who are responsible for you. If they’re drawing blood or doing any tests, ask how long it will take for results. Keep track and if that hour passes, remind them.

  1. Don’t depend too much on technology.

A simple printout is the best form. Apps that tell you how long the wait will be at various ERs should also be taken with a grain of salt. The very nature of emergency care is that everything can change in a blink. General wait times also don’t reflect the most basic issue of all: how sick you are. Because that’s, ultimately, what determines how fast you’ll get in.

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