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Surviving the Emergency Room

Ron Clark, M.D., FACEP [May 05 2011]

A visit to the emergency room is often one of the worst days of a patient's life. No one wants to be acutely ill or injured, but it's likely we will all end up on an emergency room stretcher sooner or later. It is important for patients to become active participants in the emergency medical care process, as patients can often have a profound impact on their emergency medical care if they work together with the emergency medical staff. In medicine, there are some things that are out of the patient's control, but there are many aspects of the emergency room experience that patients can control and use to their advantage.

Patients should know their personal medical and surgical histories, their medications, and their allergies. This important medical information should be written down and made easily accessible by being placed in a wallet, purse, or on a cell/smart phone. This allows the emergency medical staff quick access to valuable medical information that may alter the patient's emergency medical care. Patients should also know the names and phone numbers of their physicians and pharmacies, as emergency physicians often want to discuss aspects of the emergency medical care plan with their physician or confirm dosages of their medications.

All hospitals are not created equally. Patients should research their local community hospital resources so they know what is available to them when an emergent medical need arises. Some examples include interventional cardiology services for a heart attack, trauma surgeons, pediatric services, and psychiatric services. These specialty services matter when you are that special patient, and many emergency rooms struggle to have complete specialty coverage 24 hours a day. A suggestion is to call the emergency room ahead if you have an anatomically specific injury (eye injury, hand injury, etc.) to confirm that a specialist is available. This will save time and the frustration of a transfer to another hospital if the patient presents to an emergency room that lacks the needed specialist on that particular day.

Patients are encouraged to check emergency room wait times, which are becoming increasing available on hospital websites including The Hospital of Central Connecticut at thocc.org and billboards, smart phone applications, and by texting. Patients should present to the hospital that has their medical records (for EKG, radiology, lab and operative reports). Emergency physicians often use this prior medical information to compare with their patient's current medical illness or injury, and at times, this can alter the emergency medical care plan.

Be aware that Monday is statistically the busiest day for emergency rooms with each successive day having a decreased patient volume. Mornings are the best time to present to the emergency room, as the patient volume is relatively low with respect to the emergency room staff. The emergency room patient volume usually peaks in the early evening (approximately 7 p.m.). Knowing this may help you better plan your visit, if possible, and to understand what you might otherwise expect.

Patients are encouraged to write down medical questions so that their “face time” with the emergency medical staff is used efficiently. Accept the fact that we will all have medical illness or injury, and mentally prepare for the inevitable future emergency room visit. By making prudent medical choices and providing valuable medical information, the patient becomes an active emergency room participant instead of a helpless bystander.

Dr. Ron Clark is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HCC) medical staff and author of Surviving the Emergency Room, available via Amazon.com. For referrals to HCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 1-800-321-6244 or online, www.thocc.org. Check ED wait times!