Take Charge of Your Health - Emergency Department Basics

Emergency Department (ED) Statistics: United States 2015

Number of visits: 136.9 million

Number of injury-related visits: 39.0 million

Number of ED visits resulting in hospital admission: 12.3 million

Source: National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey
              2015 Emergency Department Summary Tables

Accidents happen and emergencies can never be scheduled. Still, what we can do in advance is to understand what a trip to the emergency department may entail and be ready. Remember, unlike TV where much is resolved in an hour; today’s emergency departments are microcosms of uncertainty and it is always wise to be prepared and know what to expect on a more realistic level.

  1. Triage: You will first be triaged (i.e. sorted) to determine how urgently you need to be seen. Remember, what might seem to be an emergency to you might be able to wait until after someone sicker or more injured is treated. The emergency department is not a good place to consider popping in, getting what you need and quickly popping out again. In fact, numerical order in the emergency department has little to do with how long you’ve been waiting; it has to do with how urgently your condition needs to be seen.

  2. Timing: There is generally a 4-hour window in which the physician who sees you will determine whether you will be staying in the hospital or will be discharged. Often it takes an hour to be seen and an hour for labs to be run and a couple of hours for imaging studies to be obtained and read.

  3. Nurses: The nursing staff acts as the gateway to the physicians; be kind and forthcoming as nurses are good at transferring information to the physician. Rudeness puts everyone on the defensive and will only serve to make your stay longer and less pleasant.

  4. Redundancy: Expect to be asked the same questions by multiple providers. This is not because they don’t communicate, but as a check and balance in the health care reporting systems. Often, multiple people want to hear your story in your own words, which can provide insights both into your situation as well as your medical solution. You should also expect to get an IV; the emergency department anticipates people who show up there are, in fact, sick patients and IVs help deliver fluids and/or medications more quickly.

  5. Questions: Think about your answers to the following:

    1. When did this problem start?

    2. Has anything changed?

    3. Do/did you have a fever? What was it?

    4. What have you tried so far?

  6. Be Prepared: Have your virtual suitcase packed at all times and take it with you to the emergency department. It should be complete with contacts, your medication list, insurance information, past medical history and any allergies.

Take Charge of Your Health by using the Emergency Department wisely, i.e. for emergent, rather than routine care. Emergency departments are not for colds, flu, sore throats, ear infections or low grade fevers. For these health care issues, it is best to call and set up appointment to visit your doctor. If it is not during your doctor's normal office hours, you may need to visit a nearby 24-hour Clinic. 

As always, join us on the Health-E³ blog page where we look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to ask a question about anything on the website or suggest ideas for additional helpful information. 

Sydney SharekComment