Prepare for the Worst, Expect the Best: Making Emergency Room Visits Less Scary

If you’ve ever been to an emergency room, you know the importance of being able to answer a multitude of questions quickly and accurately. Your life, or that of a loved one, may depend on the ability to provide the right information to those caring for you.

If you are a Generations client, part of the information needed in an emergency is already right there in your Estate Planning Portfolio. We suggest you put all of the information that might be necessary in a location that’s easily accessible, no matter where you are. It should also be available when you travel — make sure a close family member or friend has access, as well.

As many of you know, I’ve dealt with a chronic medical condition since I was a teen. As a result, my husband, Richard, and I have made a number of trips to the emergency room over the years. The care has been excellent, partially because we’re prepared for those episodes. Here’s some of what we’ve learned:

  1. 1. “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Doctors can’t help you unless they know what you’ve been through. You’re never at your best when you arrive at the ER. It’s ideal to put your medical history down in writing. Do not use a narrative format — list only the facts. The ER is not the time or place to tell people what your feelings were or how rude the store employees were when you broke your ankle. Be accurate in your descriptions, but don’t use medical terminology unless you are CERTAIN it’s correct. Words that sound similar can mean very different things. Think about the similar sounds but different meanings of “conscience” and “conscious.” List all prior hospitalizations and surgeries and their dates. Be accurate and truthful, even if it’s embarrassing.
  2. 2. Bring your ID and insurance card. Leave personal items and valuables behind, if possible.
  3. 3. List your drug allergies and sensitivities. Specify the name of the medication and what allergy symptoms it causes. Do you get hives? Become short of breath? Or something else? List any medications that have caused problems leading to discontinuing their usage. For instance, if one antibiotic caused problems but another worked, list both and detail the chain of events.
  4. 4. Keep a list of the medications, immunizations, vitamins, and supplements you take. Keep it current. This list should include: a) Medication name. b) Medication strength. c) Dosage: How many do you take at a time, how many times a day or week, what days? d) How is it administered? Is it a capsule taken by mouth, an injection, a patch, a lozenge? e) For vitamins and supplements, include all of this information, plus the brand name. f) Immunizations by date.
  5. 5. Put all of your medicine and supplement containers in a bag and bring them with you if you don’t have a current list.
  6. 6. List the names and phone numbers of all of your regular doctors. If you have lab work done regularly, include the name and phone number of the lab.
  7. 7. Know where your Advance Health Care Directive is (behind the “Healthcare” tab in your Estate Planning Portfolio). Bring a copy of it with you or ensure you have access to it when you travel. Make sure the individuals you’ve asked to make your emergency health care decisions have access to it. Bring their names and current phone numbers with you.
  8. 8. Put the name and phone number of someone to contact in the event of emergency into your mobile phone. If you use a passcode, make sure this information is visible on the screen without needing the passcode. Place the initials “ICE” in front of this person’s name. This is recognized by emergency personnel as an abbreviation for “In Case of Emergency.”
  9. 9. Bring essentials for an overnight stay if there’s a chance a stay will be required. Leave them in the car so the person who accompanies you can retrieve them if necessary.
  10. 10. Be prepared to wait. And wait some more. Hopefully, you are not the sickest person in the waiting room. Emergency room workers are trained to treat people in order of urgency. Don’t rely on the hospital’s magazines to pass the time.
  11. 11. Express gratitude. Emergency room doctors and staff work hard!

I wish I could say that I have all of the above at my fingertips 24/7, but that’s not the case. Don’t worry — even if you don’t have it all, bringing any of this information along can make a visit to the emergency room easier. Better yet, just stay healthy so the need doesn’t arise!