The more you know about the care you receive in the ER, the happier — and probably healthier — you’ll be when you leave. Here are 10 things you should know.
Treatment is not first-come, first-served
A ruptured spleen, for example, is a life-or-death situation, and sometimes everybody must be put on such a case to save the patient’s life. Although a broken toe absolutely hurts, it probably won’t kill you. That’s why as patients come into the ER, the ones who need care most urgently receive it first — their lives hang in the balance. Just know that your wait time might be helping ER staff save a life.
Wait times can be long
Every emergency physician feels your frustration over waiting for care, and they’re doing everything they can to see you as soon as possible. But the reality is that ERs deal with a large number of patients all the time. That number is up 32 percent between 1996 and 2006, and there now are 9 percent fewer emergency departments in the U.S. These changes have caused a significant increase in wait times.
You might need another specialist
Sometimes emergency physicians need to call on other specialists. Some patients need help from a surgeon or a cardiologist, for example. Emergency physicians are proactive about calling in the help they need to treat you.
Plan ahead for an ER visit
Start when you don’t need emergency care by making a list of the prescription and herbal medicines you take, along with any drug allergies, and your family’s medical history. Also include contact information for your primary care physician and specialists, such as a cardiologist. Put it all in writing and stick that paper in your wallet. This information could save your life. The more information the physician has about your health, the better.
You might not be given a prescription
If your treatment requires a prescription, you’ll be given one — but not every illness does (antibiotics do nothing for the flu, for example). If you do leave with a prescription, always follow dosing instructions. When long-term pain management is an issue, make an appointment to discuss your options with your primary care physician.
Post-ER care matters
In the ER you’re put on the road to recovery, but additional care is often necessary. Before you’re discharged, your emergency physician will talk to you about your diagnosis, treatment plan, and required follow up care. You might also be given written instructions about medications, activity restrictions, and symptoms that require a return visit. Don’t be shy — if you have any questions, ask the doctor. And always follow up with physicians you’re instructed to see.
Emergency physicians are specialists
Emergency medicine is a medical specialty that requires advanced training after medical school, typically a three- to four-year residency devoted to acute care. Emergency physicians — who must be quick thinking and flexible — are trained to treat all types of adult and pediatric emergencies, including trauma, surgical, cardiac, orthopedic, and obstetric.
Only the tests you need will be ordered
In emergency medicine, minutes count. That’s why the emergency physician will order only the tests that are required to diagnose your illness right now. And not every illness or injury requires a lot of tests to determine what’s wrong — in some cases, it might not be necessary to order any tests.
The ER is not for routine care
Many patients come in asking for a colonoscopy, flu shots, and even physicals. That is not what the ER is for — the ER is for acute care on an emergency basis. If you ask for routine care, you’ll be referred to a primary care physician.
Be specific about why you’re at the ER
It might be true to say that you’re weak and dizzy, but hundreds of illnesses are associated with weakness and dizziness. What the emergency physician needs is concrete, specific information, such as, “I’m dizzy when I walk up stairs and my chest hurts.” The emergency department is no place to play 20 questions — the ER staff members want to help you, but they need to know what’s wrong.