Consumer Watch: Strategies for visits to the ER

Consumer Watch: Strategies for visits to the ER

March 2nd, 2014 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Ellen Phillips

I just accompanied my friend to the Emergency Room, and it was a terrible experience. No wonder so many residents think local hospitals have such a terrible reputation. God forbid I must return for myself but just in case, do you have any advice to make this potential trip better than what my neighbor (and I) experienced?

- Frieda Friend

Dear Ms. Friend: First off, kudos for being such a great buddy to go through this chaotic and frustrating day. Secondly, you do have strategies available to help reduce your waiting time and your patience from boiling over.

I'm in the process of recuperating from a hospital stay myself and, even though my surgery was scheduled beforehand, it's estimated that almost half (or about 65 million) of all yearly hospital admissions come from ER referrals so it is important to have these strategies in your mind before that visit.

Finally, the problem isn't just about the hours spent sitting and waiting. In the fast-paced ER world, errors are commonplace because patients seen in ERs and/or admitted to the hospital often suffer problems, including disjointed care, medical errors, misdiagnoses, poor outcomes and - much worse - even death. So thanks to Bottom Line Health (as well as personal experience), recommendations follow, including this week's Emergency Room feature.

Emergency Room

• Since all people are triaged (assessed by nurses with those patients most seriously ill/injured going to the head of the class), be sure to be specific and succinct as to why you're there. If you're suffering from chest pains, that's all you really need to say when you're checked in; if having terrible, horrific headaches that aren't migraines or what you'd call run-of-the-mill, then say "excruciating headaches." Because it's not uncommon to wait three hours, or longer in many cases, it's imperative to get to a physician's care immediately.

• Don't downplay how badly you feel. Symptoms usually are cyclical so if you're feeling better than when you arrived a couple of hours ago, focus on how terribly you hurt when you arrived, for example; get the doc's or nurse's attention as best you can by what you say (without telling a lie, please).

• Go to the Top Dog, if necessary. If you're not triaged or even if you are but end up sitting in an exam room for a long time, then check in with a triage nurse every 20 minutes. If this doesn't do the trick, politely ask to immediately see to a caseworker. These folks are responsible for coordinating medical care and making certain that patients get what they need which includes getting a doctor or nurse's prompt attention. And certainly if your condition gets worse, then stand your ground with the ER staff and demand to see a physician.

• If possible, obtain your test results before leaving the ER. Don't assume the hospitalist, if you're admitted, or even your own family doctor will receive these results. Therefore, even though it may take a bit of extra time, it's safer to carry these test results with you wherever you go, especially if checking into the hospital, to ensure that hospital doctors have the most current info they need in order to treat you.

Next week's column will feature communication suggestions to be sure your subsequent hospital stay is fruitful and uneventful.

Tax Tip: Last year's annual gift excursion increased from $13,000 to $14,000 per heir or $28,000, gifted as a married couple to those heirs.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer books. Email her at consumer