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6 Tips for Navigating the ER

6 Tips for Navigating the ER

The emergency room can be a scary place. These tips can help you be a smart patient and avoid any unnecessary problems on your next visit.

Whether you’ve been in an accident, gotten injured at the gym or simply have a pain you can’t explain, you never know when you’ll end up in the emergency room. If that happens to you, you’ll probably want to get in and get out fast. Unfortunately, an estimated 400,000 people die each year from preventable hospital errors. Use these tips to stay healthy and safe the next time you have to make an unexpected trip to the ER.

1. Get your ID checked
The emergency room is a busy place. And even though you may be dealing with the same hospital staff or assigned to the same bed for your entire stay, it’s important that your nurse or medication provider checks your ID twice by asking your name, Social Security number and date of birth, and/or scanning your hospital wristband before giving you any treatment. Your wristband should have your name, date of birth, date of admission and hospital identification number.

2. Wash your hands, and ask your doctor to wash theirs
It’s no surprise that hospitals are teeming with germs.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 25 patients develop an infection in the hospital. Protect yourself against common infections and bacteria by washing your hands for at least 15 seconds using an alcohol sanitizing gel. While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse to wash their hands before treating you, too.

3. Speak up
A doctors’ time is limited, especially in the emergency room. Talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms and what’s worrying you. This will help your healthcare team properly diagnose and treat you. If you’re in pain or sick, it’s easy to forget to mention some of your questions or concerns, so bring along a friend or family member. He or she can help you oversee your healthcare needs if you forget anything or if you’re unable to speak for yourself. And, when it comes to treatment, don’t be afraid to ask about all of your options.

4. Bring a list of your current medications
In addition to discussing your symptoms and concerns, you’ll want to tell your doctor about any medications, vitamins and/or supplements you’re taking. This will prevent your doctor from prescribing medications that could interfere with what you’re already taking.

You shouldn’t take any medication when you’re in the ER unless your attending doctor prescribes it. If he does prescribe medication, don’t be afraid to ask why it’s being given. And, if the prescribed meds make you feel worse, tell your nurse or doctor immediately.

5. Make friends with the nurses
It’s possible for communication errors to happen during shift changes. Shift changes are the most likely times for medical mistakes to happen. Before your current nurse leaves for the day, you should go over your chart with her, and ask about any treatments you should expect to receive. And remember, your new nurse needs to double-check your wristband before administering any medication.

6. Get vaccinated
While you may be in the emergency room for a sprained ankle, the person sitting to your right could be there for a contagious disease or infection like the flu. Before you know it, you could leave the hospital only to return in a couple of days because you weren’t vaccinated. While you can’t predict trips to the emergency room, you can protect yourself against certain infections.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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