6 Tips for Navigating the ER

The emergency room can be a complicated place. Try these tips for an easier trip.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

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 it happens to you, you’ll probably want to get in and out fast—especially given the COVID-19 pandemic. Use these tips to stay healthy and safe the next time you have to go to the ER.

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 healthcare provider (HCP) checks your ID multiple times by asking your name and date of birth, and/or scanning your hospital wristband before giving you any treatment. The wristband itself should include your name and date of birth, as well as your date of admission and hospital identification number.

Wash your hands and ask your HCP to wash theirs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 25 patients develop an infection related to hospital care. Protect yourself against infections by wearing a mask and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water whenever possible. You can also use an alcohol-based sanitizer; rub your hands with it until they’re dry. Don’t be afraid to ask your HCP to wash their hands before treating you, too, just to be safe.

Speak up
Tell your ER provider about all your symptoms and what’s worrying you. If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or believe you may have it, make sure to let them know. This will help your healthcare team properly diagnose and treat you. If you’re in pain or sick, it’s easy to forget to raise your questions and concerns, so bring along a friend or family member if you can, and if the ER allows it. Your crew 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.

Bring a list of your current medications
You’ll want to tell your HCP about any medications, vitamins, herbals, and/or supplements you take. This will help prevent you from getting medications that could interfere with them.

You shouldn’t take any medication when you’re in the ER unless your HCP prescribes it. If you are prescribed a drug, ask why. And if the meds make you feel worse, tell an HCP immediately.

Make friends with the nurses
Shift changes are the most likely times for medical mistakes to happen. Before your current nurse leaves for the day, review your chart with them and ask about treatments you should expect to receive. Remember: Your new nurse needs to double-check your wristband before administering any medication.

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 like the flu or COVID-19. That means you could leave the hospital only to return in a couple of days because you’re infected. While you can’t predict trips to the emergency room, you can protect yourself against certain infections by being up-to-date on your vaccinations—including your COVID-19 shot.

Sources:

John T. James, PhD. “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care.” Journal of Patient Safety. September 2013 - Volume 9 - Issue 3 - p 122-128.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthcare-associated Infections: HAI Data.” October 5, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2021.

More On

Is the Patient Responsible for the Outcome of Their Own Healthcare?

video

Is the Patient Responsible for the Outcome of Their Own Healthcare?
The patient has a crucial role in their own health because of the decisions they need to make on a daily basis. In this video, HealthMaker Harvey Fine...
How Dirty Is Your Money?

article

How Dirty Is Your Money?
Everyone seems to want to get their hands on money. Singers boast about having it, people in power seem to hoard it, and others spend a third of their...
What Happens After High School? Know Your Child's Options

slideshow

What Happens After High School? Know Your Child's Options
The next big step may feel overwhelming, but understanding these paths can help.
How Important Is Access to Personal Health Records for Empowering Patients?

video

How Important Is Access to Personal Health Records for Empowering Patients?
Access to personal health records is especially important for patient education, says HealthMaker Lygeia Ricciardi, director, Office of Consumer eHeal...
Why Telehealth Is Good for Healthcare

video

Why Telehealth Is Good for Healthcare
Telemedicine will be key to getting high-quality medicine to rural areas in the future. In this video, HealthMaker and bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, MD...