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By Ariana Longley, chief operating officer at the Patient Safety Movement Foundation


Image via Pixabay


May 6, 2021 (San Diego) - The emergency room (ER) can be a stressful place – whether it’s you or a loved one seeking care. While most visits to the ER are unexpected, that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.

Here are some tips to ensure you and your loved ones are protected when receiving care in the emergency department.


● Keep your personal health record up to date. It is important to keep an updated personal health record for you and your loved one to bring to any ER visit. This document should include information regarding current medications and dosages, allergies, major illnesses, hospitalizations and surgeries. If possible, bring you or your loved ones’ medication bottles to the ER so the medical team can verify what you’re taking and perform a medication reconciliation, which is a formal process for creating a complete and accurate list of current medications and comparing the list to avoid duplications, dosing errors or drug interactions while you’re in their care. Having this information readily available will give medical professionals a clear understanding of the patient’s history which can aid in diagnosis.


● Identify an advocate in advance. In case of a medical emergency, it is crucial to know in advance who will act as the advocate for you or your loved ones. This person must be comfortable with the role and be available to provide support in person. When selecting someone, the most effective advocates should be someone you trust, who is willing to speak up and take action on your behalf and who works well with others. This person does not have to be a family member, it can be a friend, neighbor or even a co-worker. If you don’t have a friend or family member that can help there are organizations that offer this service for a fee and these advocates are often part-time or full-time advocates that are well-versed in the health system. In addition, you and your loved ones should complete the Medical Power of Attorney (or healthcare proxy) forms and make sure the designated advocate has a copy of these forms.


● Track and clearly communicate symptoms. To ensure you receive the best care, it is important to be able to clearly describe the reason for your visit. The more detailed you are about symptoms, including how long they have been experienced, what makes them better or worse and if the patient has had these symptoms before can help ensure the care team has a complete picture of the situation. It is also helpful to add if you have taken any medication for pain and what vitamins or supplements you regularly take. For example, turmeric supplements can increase the risk of bleeding and providing this information might be very helpful if you’re going to need surgery. Providing these details in advance can ensure that your care team is prepared with extra blood during your surgery. Every detail matters and any type of miscommunication can impact the protection of you or your loved one, so it is imperative that communication is clear at all times. One way to help keep track of these details, especially when stressed in the ER, is to keep a patient journal or notebook. This can track vitals and updates from doctors while you are receiving care and is also a helpful tool to have on hand in case of a medical problem to go back and see what went wrong.


● Get to know your care team. It’s important to feel comfortable and get to know who is taking care of you or your loved one at all times. Throughout a visit in the emergency room, it isn’t uncommon to be seen by different types of professionals - nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, including residents or other clinicians in training. Always ask for the title, name of the provider and their experience level. These providers can consult with attending physicians or on-call specialists if more expertise is needed.


● Ask questions about your care. Another way to ensure the safety of you and your loved one is to be actively involved in your care. Ask why every medication or test is being ordered and how these items will affect the treatment plan of the patient and what kind of answers they will provide overall. This is also important to know as some tests are not covered by insurance. In addition, you should feel prepared for when you or your loved one is discharged. Make sure to ask for written instructions: these can include guidelines for self-care at home, information about when and where to seek follow-up care and whom to call in case of complications.


Medical emergencies can be scary to watch and witness. While it can feel overwhelming, being prepared can help ensure you and your loved ones receive the best possible care. In addition, there are free resources, like the PatientAider®️ mobile app developed by the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, that can provide helpful information and tools on how to protect yourself and your loved ones when receiving medical attention.


About the author: Ariana Longley is the chief operating officer at the Patient Safety Movement Foundation. The Patient Safety Movement Foundation is a global non-profit with a vision to eliminate preventable patient harm and death across the globe by 2030. It provides free Actionable Patient Safety Solutions and coaching to help health systems improve their care.


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