Help Yourself

Tips to help you get the best care in the ER

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 01, 2006

Emergencies don't upset your life every day, thank goodness, but they do happen. You're slicing tomatoes for dinner, get distracted, and put a gash in your hand that requires stitches. Your tree-climbing kid takes a tumble from a high branch. Or your spouse steps on a rusty nail while cleaning out the garage. These and similar scenarios can mean a trip to the local emergency room. What do you need to know to help save time and get the care you need during your next unexpected ER trip?

Here are some basic tips.

Come prepared. "The most important thing is to come equipped with a good history," Lewis Kohl, MD, chairman of emergency medicine at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., tells WebMD. "Know about all the medications you're taking, and which dose for each."

Wait it out. The average patient spends 3.2 hours in the emergency room. That includes time spent not only with the doctor, but also waiting. Be patient, but if you feel too much time is passing, by all means approach the nurses' station and speak up. "It doesn't hurt to ask questions. ERs do get busy, and people can be lost in the shuffle," says Kohl.

Be alert. Ask questions, get names. If you have a drug or latex allergy, make sure that you say it, over and over. Serious mistakes happen even in the best of situations. If a nurse is about to attach a bag of fluid to your IV or presents a medication for you to take, ask what it is and what it's for. If you know that you are waiting for a test and it's been a while since it was ordered, remind staff that you are waiting.

Power off. Cell phones, BlackBerry handhelds, and the other electronic essentials of life "can wreak havoc with the signal for medical equipment," says Joshua Kugler, MD, chairman of the emergency services department at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., who advocates turning them off while in the treatment area.

Bring support and be prepared to stay. Significant others or friends are extra-helpful "if the patient is in pain or needs a ride home," says Rosemary Lowry, nurse manager of the emergency department at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich. Also, if the situation was serious enough for you to go to the ER, then you may need to stay for observation or admission. Be ready for that possibility.

Benefit from fast-track care. Bring comfortable clothes, or even a pillow. And while you're waiting, meditate on this: You're in the medical fast lane. "Here you can be X-rayed, have a blood test, and see a doctor and a nurse in four hours, whereas in a doctor's office, it would take a week," says Kohl.