In this day and age, a visit to the Emergency Room is often the primary way that many individuals will access healthcare in the United States. ERs by their nature are hectic places where many patients are facing immediately life threatening health problems. Many ERs are overcrowded and patient wait times are growing. But there are actions that patients and their families can take that will help them navigate a visit to the ER. Here are five hints to help improve your ER visit:
1) Visit the ER at either 4am or after 7am. We cannot always choose when we get sick and may need an emergency room. However, many times we may have the ability to decide whether to go now or wait an hour or two. If you have the option, consider going in the early morning towards the end of the week (not on the weekend). This is when the ER traffic is light, and the likelihood of being out-ranked by “sicker” patients is lowest. However, avoid going to the ER close to 7am. This is when most ERs have their staffing shift change, and if you show up after 6am, there’s a great possibility that you will have to wait until the new medical team comes in at 7am to really be evaluated.
2) When you show up to the ER, have a list of all the medications and supplements you take. Many patients and their families are unable to provide the ER staff with the names of their medications and/or supplements. This list is an important part of your medical history and necessary to ensure a high quality of care. If you really want to impress the ER staff bring a copy of your EKG if you have a heart condition. Take your EKG from a prior visit and shrink it down, laminate it and put it in your wallet so you’ll always have it with you to show the ER doctor in case you ever have chest pain while you’re traveling.
3) Write down your medical history, your surgeries, and the name and phone number of your primary care physician. This will allow you to better participate in the medical discussion and understand what’s being explained. Additionally, it allows the doctor to fully consider all the possible emergency conditions that may exist based on your current complaint.
4) Try to be kind and respectful to the ER staff. Unfortunately the ER is not always a friendly place to work. The ER nurses and doctor endure tons of abuse, both verbal and physical. Being kind and polite to the medical team in the ER will help keep the environment calm and allow everyone to do their job effectively. While this is a stressful time for you and your family, a little kindness goes a long way.
5) Realize that the primary role of the emergency room is to rule-out immediately life threatening diseases. If your problem is chronic, or is not likely to cause death or disability in the next few minutes to days, typically it is beyond the capacity of the ER to fully diagnose and treat it. We do not have access to the full array of blood tests, examinations or physician specialist/consultants that your primary physician has available to properly diagnose and treat your illness. The ER should never be viewed as a substitute for having and seeing your primary care doctor.
Dr. Myiesha Taylor is a board certified emergency medicine physician specialist and a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In an effort to mentor and support women physicians of color globally, she founded Artemis Medical Society in June of 2012. Currently Dr. Taylor is President of Artemis Medical Society which has nearly 2500 members with representation in every major American city, and extends to South Africa, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Caribbean.