How to Get the Most Out of a Trip to the ER

No one can predict when they might end up in the emergency room. Take the case of Sarah Dell’Orto, 27, who was hit by a truck in May while crossing a street in Chinatown. Conscious and able to communicate, Sarah was transported to Bellevue Hospital to be examined. Like many who take infrequent trips to the ER, she wishes she had asked more questions, been less timid, and looked through her paperwork more thoroughly. “I didn’t really know the process,” she says. “In hindsight, I would have been a more vocal patient.” Maureen Gang, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center/NYU School of Medicine, which works in conjunction with Bellevue, offers her advice on how patients like Sarah can be better prepared.

Carry a list of information and update it on a regular basis.
The list should include the medications you’re on, especially if you have a complicated medical history; the doses of those medications; which medicines you have allergies to; whether you have a health-care proxy who can make medical decisions for you. For individuals with a cardiac history, you can have your EKG shrunk and laminated.

Know the details of your most recent medical conditions.
If you had a tonsillectomy 20 years ago, that information is less crucial than whether you had a medical procedure three months ago, or a serious condition like pneumonia or a heart attack. Even medication that you recently took for an minor infection is important information to relay.

The more the hospital knows, the better care you’ll receive.
For example, chest pain can be the result of a variety of things–a heart attack; a blood clot in the lungs; a gastrointestinal issue. Having detailed information helps narrow the options and expedites treatment.

Don’t feel guilty about taking up time in the ER.
It’s the patient’s right to get whatever information they need to be able to ensure that they don’t have to come back. If the ER has to suddenly handle a very serious case, they’ll ask you to wait. Otherwise, take the time you need.

Before you leave, make sure you know the following crucial details:
How often you should be taking your medications, what kind of follow-up plan you’ll need, whether you need to see a private physician, whether you need to revisit the emergency department.

Take advantage of the services available to you.
Hospitals sometimes have pre-printed instructions based on a patient’s complaint, which preempts questions that the patient might not have thought to ask when they’re in the emergency department. Check with an attendant to see if they carry an instructional form. And if there are tests results you haven’t received, hospitals have follow-up nurses who you can call to get any outstanding information.

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How to Get the Most Out of a Trip to the ER