Emergency Room Insider Info You Should Know
Going to the emergency room as just a visitor who is in perfect health and a stable state of mind is already disorienting, so you can imagine how confusing and overwhelming it is for the suffering patient. If you’ve ever been to an emergency room, then you probably felt like you did a lot of waiting around, received a lot of information you didn’t understand, and then received a bill that set you back on your savings goals for months…or years. The emergency room does not operate like a regular medical facility where one makes appointments and schedules procedures. Nobody expects to wind up in the emergency room. The receptionists cannot ask you to postpone your heart attack until next Thursday, when they aren’t as busy. The ER staff and facilities need to be equipped for anything but at the same time, they’re almost always overworked and overcrowded. That leaves you feeling lost in a sea of sirens and beeping machines. Here are things you should know about the emergency room.
These symptoms get you in quicker
Chest pains or dizziness will get you into the room quicker. That being said, only report these symptoms if they are true. If you fake them to get in quicker, the staff may run the wrong tests, wasting everyone’s time and your money. But, if you do have these symptoms, make sure to tell the front desk right away.
Nurse/doctor handoff can be sloppy
The emergency room is a hectic place, so sometimes the nurse who has seen you doesn’t give the doctor who will see you accurate information. Reiterate to each new person who treats you what is happening, and what has already occurred—from tests to symptom changes.
You don’t have to take any meds
Just because the staff recommends something does not mean you have to take it. This is especially true of pain medication. Your nurse may swiftly mention she’s adding a pain medication to your IV to make you more comfortable. But if you’re not in much pain, keep in mind that most meds in the emergency room are three or four times more expensive than they would be at the pharmacy. Saying yes to that pain medication may have just cost you hundreds of dollars.
Ambulances don’t cut the line
Arriving in an ambulance does not mean you get to cut the waiting room line. Many people who aren’t in urgent condition arrive in an ambulance, simply because they weren’t in any condition to drive themselves. Your condition will still be evaluated upon arrival, and you’ll either be put in a bed or put in the waiting area accordingly.
They may leave you in pain on purpose
You might demand pain medication the second you arrive, but the staff may withhold it for good reason. They need you to describe the nature of your pain—the severity, frequency, and specific sensations—so they can reach a diagnosis. You can’t give them that information if you’re numb.
Your doctor can call
If you’re going to the emergency room during your regular physicians’ office hours, you can call him and have him call the ER so they can fill out a pre-expect form. This is what the triage nurse at the ER would have filled out. If your doctor calls it in in advance, you can skip that nurse and see a doctor sooner. If you’ve told your doctor about other recent medical changes, he can tell the ER doctor those as well.
Write down medications now
Now, while you’re well, write down all the medications you take, including the dosage and how frequently you take them. Keep this piece of paper in your wallet and give it to the ER staff.
Write down allergies now
You should also be aware of and write down any allergies to medications you may have. Also keep this piece of paper in your wallet to give to the ER staff.
Be detailed about symptoms
The more information you can give about the symptoms, the better. Tell your doctor when they began, what activities make them flare up, and what the severity on a scale of 1 to 10 is. If a certain condition with similar symptoms runs in your family, tell the doctor that.
Speak to a social worker
If you’re struggling to get a staff member to talk to you, ask to speak to a social worker. Most ERs have one on staff, and they can ease the lines of communication between patient and staff.
You’re allowed to ask questions
The staff seems rushed and they are, but you’re allowed to ask questions. If they say they’re going to run a test, you can ask what the test is for. If they say they’re giving you a medication, you can ask what it is for. If they use a term you don’t understand, you can ask them to translate. They will answer—they’ll never say, “I don’t have time for this.” You have a right to know what’s going on with your own health.
Expect to wait, but not forever
Don’t scream at the staff because you’ve been waiting a while and don’t kick up a fuss about waiting 30 minutes to get into a room. That’s completely normal. If you’re waiting, there’s probably a reason. That being said, if you’re already in a room and nobody has stopped into check on you for nearly an hour, push the call button.
They’ve literally seen it all
Really, every embarrassing, horrendous thing—they’ve seen it and heard it. So just tell them what happened. They won’t even bat an eyelash, no matter how embarrassing it seems to you.
Ask “What’s next?” before leaving
Before you leave, make sure you are perfectly clear on next steps. Should you seek a follow-up appointment with your regular doctor or a specialist? What are the instructions for the medication? Are there home care instructions?
These are the slow times
Not that you can plan when an emergency occurs, but if it’s at all helpful, the slowest time at the ER is between 3am and 9am. So if you have symptoms you can’t wait to see a regular doctor for, but can wait another hour or two until 3am hits, it could be worth waiting. Again, that’s only if it isn’t urgent.