6 Ways to Be Ready for an Emergency Department Visit

The patients I see in the emergency department (ED) ranges from newborn to over 100-years-old. The spectrum of symptoms includes those related to pain, infection, difficulty breathing, trauma, pregnancy, and psychiatric disorders just to name a few.

The preparedness of patients who suddenly realize they have ended up in the hospital varies quite a bit as well. Some arrive with a laminated card that lists medication names, insurance information, and every medical encounter since World War II. Some patients can only tell me they take the “white, round pill” which usually is less helpful.

Nobody plans for a visit to the ED, but you should.

The American College of Emergency Physicians reports that: “In 2008, there were nearly 124 million visits to the nation’s nearly 4,000 emergency departments. Two-thirds of the visits occurred after business hours and on weekends and holidays when doctors’ offices were closed. 92 percent of emergency visits were from very sick patients who needed care within one minute to two hours.”

Anyone can have an emergency at any time. If you prepare in advance using these 6 steps, you can make your ED visit a much better one.

  1. Have a list of all medical information

Health care professionals can provide better care when patients come ready with information to assist in the decision-making process. Having a sheet of paper or a list on your phone with pertinent medical information can improve quality and efficiency of care in an emergency situation.

A patient brought in by ambulance with a stroke may be unable to speak clearly with doctors. If the patient is able to hand a nurse a list of medical problems (high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol, etc.), this will ensure the correct tests will be performed.

A patient with a history of heart disease and diabetes will need specific lab work, but a patient who has had a blood clot before will need different tests. A list of past surgeries can ensure that you get the right test which can save you money. If you have had surgery for gallstones or appendicitis, this may help the doctor decide to do a CAT scan instead of a sonogram or exclude IV with contrast to avoid potential damage to your kidneys.

A patient confused from a severe infection may not be able to alert the ED staff that he is allergic to an antibiotic. A list of allergies to medicines can prevent a dangerous reaction in an unresponsive patient needing quick administration of life-saving medicine.

Patients with “do not resuscitate” papers or those who wish not to receive blood transfusions due to personal or religious reasons can make a note of this on their medical information list in the event they are on the ventilator after a serious car accident and unable to speak.

2. Have a list of all medicines

List the name, dosage, frequency, and when the medication was started. Be sure to update this when medications are changed. You can bring your bottles if you would like, but a list is sufficient. It saves time to have the information listed out so that the nurse doesn’t have to go through the various bottles. There are smartphones applications that will store this information for you.

Some medicines for epilepsy, blood clots, and the heart require blood tests to check levels so your physicians will want to know about these medicines before tests are begun to avoid repeat blood draws. Knowing your medicines lets us know what medicines are safe to give you.

3. Have phone numbers readily available

Listing your doctors’ names can assist us in calling the right people for more information. We can look through your phone contacts to call family to let them know you are in the hospital. Some patients will label contacts as “spouse” or “in case of emergency (ICE)” to facilitate this.

4. Bring your home care equipment

If you have a machine at home to check your blood pressure or blood sugar, bringing that can allow us to see the past reading. We can also check your machine with ours to ensure they are calibrated correctly. If you require CPAP for sleep apnea or perform peritoneal dialysis at home, your hospital may need you to bring your equipment.

5. Bring the cause of your illness

Bring a photo of the insect or animal that injured you. Do not put yourself in danger by trying to catch a live snake that bit you. Please don’t bring a live scorpion that may escape and sting other patients or ED staff. Bring the bottles of medicine or chemicals ingested or exposed to if is stored in a proper container that will not expose others to fumes.

6.  Bring something to do while you wait

I have seen patients knit a sweater while waiting on test results. Our hospital has free wireless internet for guests. Patients and family may choose to surf the Internet or read a book while waiting for a room to become available. Feel free to bring for your child a favorite stuffed animal or toy.

We’ve attached a form for you to fill out your information on and to bring with you during your next emergency room visit. Download the medical information form here.

Life is unpredictable, but Baylor Scott & White Health emergency care is there for you when and where you need it.

About the author

Dr. Andy Kahn
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Dr. Andy Kahn is an emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland. He is passionate about patient education and enjoys networking via social media.

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6 Ways to Be Ready for an Emergency Department Visit