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Five Things to Know About Visiting the Emergency Room

April 10, 2017 at midnight

Every year, millions of Americans seek treatment at emergency rooms across the country when they are in need of urgent medical care. By its very nature, a typical ER visit can be overwhelming, especially if you don't know what to expect. Five things to keep in mind:

1. While your health issues can be resolved by your primary care physician in most cases, sometimes a visit to the ER could prove to be the difference between life and death. Someone who is unconscious should be brought to the emergency room without delay. Anyone who has experienced serious trauma, especially to the head, should be treated as soon as possible. If someone is experiencing signs of a stroke or a heart attack, they should immediately seek treatment. A more complete list of conditions that require ER treatment can be found here.

2. An emergency room visit is not a first-come-first-served situation. If you broke your foot while playing softball, a trip to the ER is certainly warranted, but you may be in for a long wait. 'Triage' is a process dating back to World War I. Medical professionals grouped soldiers according to their injuries: those who could survive without medical care, those expected to die even with care, and those who would likely survive if they received care. Because there are limited resources available, your place in the queue could be bumped back to accommodate a more severe injury or illness, especially if it is life threatening.

3. If you can get some things together before you make your way to the ER, the following items will help doctors and nurses better assess your situation and make quicker, more informed decisions.

  • Your insurance card
  • Your license or other identification
  • A list of all medical conditions and surgeries
  • Your primary care physician’s name and contact number
  • A list of all current medications, over the counter drugs (such as aspirin and allergy medicine) as well as supplements or herbal remedies
  • A list of allergies, especially those that apply to medication
  • Contact numbers of family or friends

If you are not in a position to put this information together before you go to the hospital, take a relative or someone close to you along if you can. The doctors and nurses will have lots of questions, and it’s good to have someone with you to help answer questions as well as for emotional support.

4. Emergency room visits are expensive; you might pay up to three times more than you would if you had made an appointment at a family physician’s office. An emergency room is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and has state of the art equipment on hand to assist patients with a broad range of issues. An ER department has expenses like any other business, and to remain open (and profitable), these expenses are passed onto patients along with the bill for the services you receive.

5. After your release, it is important that you carefully read and follow your discharge orders. These instructions will provide a synopsis of why you came to the ER, the attending physician’s diagnosis, as well as instructions for what you need to do going forward. These orders may include a follow-up visit with your primary care physician, directions for prescriptions or over the counter medicines that you’ll need to take, as well as any scenarios that could require readmission to ER.

A visit to the emergency room can be stressful, but knowing what to expect can help reduce the anxiety and make a serious situation less stressful.


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