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I'm an ER Doctor and Wish You Knew This Life-Saving Advice

The Emergency Department is a foreign environment for most people. It is not a place that people venture when they are feeling well, or when they are healthy. It definitely operates differently than your doctor's office and no matter your familiarity with the ED, it can be confusing.

On a daily basis, I have patients and families ask questions about how things work in the ED. Why they are waiting, or what happens after they get their results. Here is a guide to some of the more common things that you may not know you should not do while in the ED. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus


Never Give Your Loved One Food or Drink Without Asking

girl eating apple

Although it is very common for people to wait in the Emergency Department long enough to become hungry and thirsty, you should not eat or drink without first asking staff for approval. This may sound like a torturous process, but it is an important one. There are many different procedures, such as surgery or sedation, that are safer with an empty stomach. If you do eat, your care may be delayed in order to ensure your safety.


Never Check In With a False Complaint

Doctor wearing protection mask against covid taking notes during consultation with patient in medical clinic

This can happen for two different reasons, either the real complaint is too embarrassing or because people hope to get to a bed faster. Unfortunately, both can cause harm. If you are embarrassed about why you are in the Emergency Department, do not worry, we have heard it all before. It also can delay the evaluation of your true complaint, which can be harmful to your health.  If you think that checking in with a serious complaint, such as chest pain when you are there for an ankle sprain, will benefit you, it will not. You may get tests, such as chest X-rays and lab work, that are costly and may not be helpful for your true complaint.


Never Call 911 From the ED

Hand Holding Smartphone With Emergency Number 911 On The Screen

This may sound like a bad joke, but it's from personal experience. Either from the waiting room of the ED, or from a patient room, patients have called 911. This takes the EMS dispatcher and the ED staff away from other tasks, which could mean the difference for another individual. If you need help, please use the call bell to get in touch with a staff member.

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Never Wait Until Your Bladder is Full to Call for Help to the Bathroom

supermarket bathroom

During your stay in the ED, it is likely that you may receive IV fluids, or may be waiting a couple of hours for your work up to be completed. The time, as well as the fluids, may make bathroom trips more frequent, and time dependent. Often, patients who need assistance to the bathroom do not alert staff until they're in severe discomfort and can wait no longer. In the ED it is very difficult for staff to accommodate a request on such short notice. Even with the best intention to help every patient immediately, emergencies occur often with other patients that require numerous staff attention. Try and alert staff early enough to avoid feeling uncomfortable.


Never Walk If You Are Not Steady

Nurse wearing face mask against coronavirus taking notes on clipboard while talking with disabled senior woman in wheelchair

If you need to get up out of the stretcher or chair while you are in the Emergency Department, please let the staff know. This pertains to almost all patients, but most importantly for those that are in the ED for dizziness, or some other symptom that may make you unsteady on your feet.


Never Take Your Own Medications

man in red shirt pouring pills from prescription pill bottle

When you come to the Emergency Department, please do not take your home medications. You may think that it is appropriate to continue to take your prescriptions such as blood pressure or diabetes medications, however, this could be problematic. The concern is that all medications could interact with something you will receive in the ED. For instance, certain diabetes medications can interact with contrast that is given for some CT scans. The interaction can result in serious kidney damage in some cases. It also pertains to pain medications as well. It is possible to overdose on pain medication, especially mixed with other things that you may receive in the ED.


Never Think the Ambulance Can Take You Home

Ambulance vehicle parked on a street

Although many patients come to the Emergency Department by way of an ambulance, you should know that the ambulance cannot take you home.  Most 911 services cannot take patients both directions, and can only bring patients to the hospital. There are transport ambulances that can take you home, but that service is dependent on many different factors.

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Never Leave Without Notifying Staff

female practitioner or nurse with face protective mask working at clinic reception desk

A visit to the Emergency Department can elicit feelings of fear and anxiety and you may want to leave as soon as possible. There are many times that blood work is taken, x-rays are completed and then you end up waiting longer than you anticipated. Sometimes patients leave without notifying staff because they assumed their workup was completed. It is very common to have laboratory tests done, but there is a need to repeat these tests in a few hours. There are also discussions with primary care physicians and specialists that may need to happen while you are in the ED that takes time.


Never Be Administered Any Medication Without Explanation

nurse and man with face masks

Every medication you are given in the Emergency Department should be communicated to you prior to administration. There are times your allergies are not updated in your chart and you may be allergic to a certain medication, or your doctor may have told you to avoid a certain type of drug. In rare instances, medication errors can occur where medications are ordered or administered to the wrong patient. All efforts are made to avoid errors, in the end, you are your best advocate to ensure you are not administered the wrong medication.


Never Think Your Personal Doctor Is Going to Meet You in the ED

Doctors in medical masks and gloves

There are instances when you may get directed to the ED by your doctor either for tests, treatment, or admission. Your doctor may even call the ED to communicate the concern he or she has for your health. This does not mean, however, that your doctor will meet you in the ED, or that your doctor will be directing your care once you arrive. Although all attempts will be made to coordinate care with your primary doctor, the ED doctor is primarily responsible for your care in the ED. As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Kenneth Perry, MD FACEP
Dr. Perry is an active practicing physician and Medical Director of an Emergency Department in Charleston, South Carolina. Read more about Kenneth
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