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4 Steps to Prepare for an ER Visit

Planning ahead for a trip to the emergency room visit can help reduce stress

1. Prepare an emergency room kit

Upon arrival at the ER, hospital personnel will ask about insurance coverage, medications and medical history. Create an emergency room kit that you or your loved one can easily grab on the way to the hospital and that includes the following:

  • A summary of your loved one’s medical history, including allergies and a current list of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • A list of emergency contacts.
  • Health insurance cards (photocopies are useful, too).
  • Copies of legal documents, such as a health care power of attorney and living will.
  • A change of clothing.
  • Toiletries.
  • A family photo or other item that may provide comfort to your loved one

Also, help your loved one create an “in case of emergency” card to keep in a wallet or purse.

2. Add emergency contacts to your loved one's phone

Emergency physicians now recommend that people add “in case of emergency” (or ICE) entries to their cell phone address books. That way, if a patient arrives in the ER unable to answer questions, hospital staff can easily identify that person’s emergency contacts.

Add at least two such contacts — for instance, type ICE1-wife and ICE2-daughter.

3. Find the fastest route to the hospital

Determine the fastest route to the nearest hospital, and keep directions with your loved one’s emergency room kit. Remember that there  are times when it makes more sense to call an ambulance than to drive yourself. The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends calling an ambulance:

  • If your loved one’s condition appears life-threatening.
  • If you think their condition could worsen on the way to the hospital.
  • If moving the person could cause further injury.
  • If your loved one needs the paramedics’ skills or equipment.
  • If distance or traffic conditions could delay your getting to the hospital

If your loved one lives in a rural area that’s not covered by the 911 system, keep the telephone number for the local emergency medical service by the phone.

4. Know when to go to the ER

If your loved one experiences any of these classic warning signs, don't delay in seeking medical care:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting or sudden dizziness.
  • Changes in vision.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Confusion or change in mental state or behavior.
  • Sudden, severe pain.
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Coughing or vomiting blood.
  • Unusual or severe abdominal pain.
  • Thoughts of suicide or homicide.