Summer means that hospital Emergency Rooms will see an increase in cases related to excessive heat, water emergencies, and sports/recreation accidents. From watching medical programs on TV, you might assume ER patients arrive at the hospital in critical condition, often as the result of outlandish medical scenarios. In fact, most ER cases are not life-threatening. At some time or another, however, many of us have an injury or illness that requires immediate medical attention.
If you are ill or injured after regular office hours, first call your primary doctor. Most physicians have after-hours call services for emergencies and, since your primary doctor knows your history, may be able to diagnose and treat you situation over the phone. If not, the doctor may recommend an urgent care center or the nearest hospital Emergency Department. Urgent care centers are usually open nights and weekends and these doctors specialize in emergency diagnosis and care. They can often treat you in less time than an ER.
If you need to go a hospital Emergency Department, the tools below can help you get the highest quality of care possible with the least amount of anxiety:
We need to know all the medications you are taking
Your health history is the most important tool the ER physician has to help make the safest and most accurate diagnosis. Emergency room personnel’s persistence in getting an accurate list of your medications, even if you just need a finger sutured, is to make sure they don’t give you a drug that will negatively interact with what you are already taking. Federal regulations mandate documenting every patient’s prescription and non-prescription medications. Carry a credit card-sized list of medications, including vitamins, and any medical problems you have to make your visit as safe and effective as possible.
Bring one person with you but leave children with family or friends
Bring only one advocate who can help answer questions, give updates to family, and assist as needed. Since most ERs are overcrowded, having multiple family members present compromises the privacy of all patients. The ER is no place to bring children; there is no one to care for them while you are being treated. Some ER patients may also be contagious.
If your condition is serious, don’t drive to the ER
It’s understandable that you’d want to get right to the hospital, but a distraught driver is not a safe driver. If there is any question about you or your family member’s condition, call an ambulance. Paramedics can begin many types of emergency treatment even before you get to the hospital.
You may have to wait for treatment because we help the sickest patients first
You will be triaged based upon the severity of your condition and you can’t shortcut the line in the ER. Critically ill patients are helped first.
Be honest about your lifestyle
If you smoke, use drugs or drink heavily, we need to know in order to devise a safe and effective treatment plan. We are here to stabilize your medical situation, not judge you. If you are in any kind of dangerous or abusive situation, tell us. We have the resources to help.
This is not the place for ongoing treatment of your chronic medical condition
Unless your chronic condition has a life-threatening complication, the ER is not the place to seek care. We don’t know your full medical history or the treatment protocol your regular doctor has in place. As a result, we are not able to adjust prescription medications or prescribe new medications, unless it is to treat a condition unrelated to your chronic disease. The ER is only capable of doing testing for emergent conditions. Most other medical testing is for outpatients or those admitted to the hospital.
You or your advocate should read the printed follow-up report our nurses provide before you leave
Healthcare is confusing, so be sure to read the report we prepared for you. It will state specifically what you need to do next to continue your recovery: prescriptions to fill, medical clearances for returning to work or school, and follow-up visits with a treatment provider. Read the review that describes the medical emergency we diagnosed and treated. Surprisingly, patients are often not aware of the condition for which they were treated.
Call the Medical Records Department after your visit for a copy of lab tests and a treatment record to share with your own doctor
You or an advocate should call the hospital’s Medical Records Department after your ER visit to get a complete, final copy of all of your reports to send to your regular doctors.
Understand the goal of the Emergency Department
Only about 12 percent of patients who come through the ER are admitted to the hospital. The goal of every person who works in our department is to stabilize patients until they can see their regular doctor—cardiologist, pediatrician, OB/GYN or family physician. We don’t establish long-term relationships with patients. If hospitalization is required, we will transfer your care to the attending physician who specializes in your medical condition.
When you need to call 911
If you have these life-threatening symptoms, call an ambulance:
- Chest pain or other signs of a heart attack
- Stroke symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe bleeding
- Head trauma or seizures
- Drug or alcohol overdose
- Severe pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden loss of vision or blurred vision
- Compound bone fractures that break through the skin
Calling 911 will provide professional medical assistance in the fastest way possible. These specially-trained ambulatory paramedics will stabilize you and help keep your condition from worsening during transport to the hospital. They will also alert the Emergency Department to your medical emergency so that a team is ready to help you the minute you arrive at the hospital.
CentraState Medical Center’s comprehensive Emergency Department offers high-quality, efficient emergency medical care for its service area. CentraState guarantees that ED patients will be seen by a nurse within 15 minutes and a physician or practitioner within 30 minutes. For more information about emergency services offered at CentraState, call 866-CENTRA7.
Jeremy Dayner, MD is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, NJ.