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6 Secrets to the Best Emergency Room Care

One nurse explains how to make your emergency room experience as stress-free as possible.

Emergency room staff rushes patient in from ambulance
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Keri Urban works as a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital.

As emergency department (ED) staff, my colleagues and I are trained to keep calm in stressful situations. But for many patients and family members, the ED can seem overwhelming and frightening—and those heightened emotions can result in a confusing, less-than-pleasant experience. I’m here to share some simple, practical tips to help you feel more in control and make your next ED experience as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Tip 1: Talk to your primary care provider first

There are times where every second counts (you have stroke or heart attack symptoms or you’re having an anyphalatic reaction) and you or someone with you needs to call 911. But for other conditions that bring people to the ED, such as the flu or back pain, it’s best to call your primary care provider first and ask his or her opinion; many non-emergent (the technical term for things that aren’t an emergency) or chronic complaints are better managed by your primary care provider. But when in doubt, don’t delay getting care.

Tip 2: In agony? Take pain medications before you go

If you’re in pain and you’re not facing a life-threatening emergency, please take over-the-counter pain medication at home first! So many patients leave themselves in pain for longer than they have to because they think we won’t take them seriously if they’re not at their worst when they arrive. The reality is that we want you to be as comfortable as possible. And when necessary and if you can, take your routine medications before coming to the ED, as we are not equipped to supply these.

Tip 3: Speaking of medications, jot them down

You should carry a list of your medical problems, daily medications, and allergies, especially if you have several medical conditions. Keep the list in your wallet or on your phone so you always have it handy. You can also snap pictures of the labels or toss them in your bag if you haven't already listed them out. This information will be very helpful to the ED staff when evaluating you. If you’re admitted to the hospital, it will also help the pharmacist accurately document all of your home medications, so you can continue getting them while in the hospital.

Tip 4: Cooperate with the triage nurse

The first person you’ll see in the ED is the triage nurse. His or her job is to rapidly assess you. We use a nationally standardized five-level algorithm called the emergency severity index to place patients into categories of severity. The entire assessment is designed to be completed in less than two minutes, so we can immediately identify any potential life-threatening situations. The nurse will ask for pertinent information needed to determine your severity level; answering these questions as quickly and clearly as possible helps us evaluate patients more efficiently. Please note we will not typically need an entire medical history at this point. I promise you’ll get to share all the details once we get you to your care team.

Tip 5: Don’t hold anything back

When it does come time to share the details regarding the main reason you came to the ED, don’t be embarrassed! Trust me, we’ve seen and heard it all. Some of the more memorable scenarios include a woman who slipped in the shower while cleaning knives, a man who accidentally ate a rat, and an individual who lodged a toy figurine up his nostril—at age 28.

Seriously, there are very few things that surprise us. (If you manage to do so, kudos to you!) Speak up so we can get you the care you need.

Tip 6: Bring along some moral support

If there’s someone who knows your medical history better than you or you just need some moral support, try to have that person accompany you. However, we ask that you limit your visitors in the ED to two people, due to space restrictions and safety concerns. If you’re admitted to the hospital, it’s better to have your family or friends visit you once you’re settled into your room.

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Published September 3rd, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

Join the family!