Emergency Room Care

How to Plan Ahead for Stressful Emergencies


For Safer Care. For Peace of Mind

Don’t wait for an emergency

There are simple steps you can take NOW to help minimize potential complications and maximize efficiencies should you or a loved one end up in a hospital Emergency Room (also called an ER and ED – for Emergency Department).

And don’t forget, the ER may not be your only choice if an emergency arises. Become acquainted with the kind of care offered at your local Immediate Care Center. Typically, they have shorter waits (for some, you can wait at home until called), comfortable surroundings, less “hustle and bustle,” plus all the onsite testing equipment that ER’s have – and all at a lower cost!

Ambulance Graphic

If your loved one needs an ambulance to the ER, it’s okay to ask if you can ride alongside. It will help your case to explain that you can help keep your loved one calm.

Plan ahead for safe care

Whether you’re caring for an aging parent or chronically ill family member, it’s a good idea to have all of your Care Partner tools organized and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

NOTE: It’s really important that you know your loved one’s wishes and goals for medical care. A good resource to help you have those conversations is: fivewishes.org.

In a notebook or file folder, organize medical info, forms and records hospitals will need:

    • Medical Power of Attorney
    • Advance Directives
    • Photo ID of your loved one and
    • Insurance card (front and back)
    • Medical records, including lists of all doctors, prior hospitalizations, all surgeries with dates, all vaccinations with dates, current and prior health care conditions. Bring CD’s with any scans performed (EKG, CAT, MRI).
    • Medication list, including vitamins and herbal products, as well as information about alcohol, tobacco and recreational drug use.
    • Medications – if you have time, put all your loved ones medications in a baggie and bring. You may have a long wait so remember to bring medications your loved one may need to take.
Folders and document pouches that help you Organize Medical Info Ahead of Time

Having a patient’s medical information at your fingertips in the ER can help minimize complications and ensure your loved one gets the best treatment based on their history.

Organize your Care Partner tools in a “grab and go” backpack or tote:

    • Notebook and pen
    • Bottles of water – keeping your loved one hydrated and warm is key. Include powder packs of Gatorade too.
    • Healthy snacks like little packs of nuts, granola bars, and protein bars
    • Contact list of others to call for help (If stored on your phone, organize in group/s so you can find quickly–ie. Dad’s Doctors, Mom’s Neighbors)
    • Antibacterial hand cleaner
    • Antibacterial surface wipes
    • Care Partner Project checklists – just in case your loved one is admitted to the hospital
    • The Beers List of Medications
    • Your chargers for phone or other electronics you bring (a power strip might be good, too).
A backpack, showing one way to organize for an emergency room visit ahead of time, especially if your loved one is chronically ill.
Clipboard, file folders, and a laptop signifying good ways to have needed info at your fingertips during an emergency room visit with a loved one.

When your loved one is elderly or chronically ill, it’s especially important to have a bag ready to go at a moment’s notice with all the essentials you’ll need at the hospital. Minutes count when a medical crisis occurs.

Bring comfort items for your loved one:

  • A favorite personal item (A favorite sweet treat? Religious item? )
  • A warm sweater, neck scarf, or hat
  • A light blanket (the kind you get on the airline is a good example – folds up compactly but offers warmth)
  • Items to help quell anxiety (choose what helps your loved one)
      • Fidget-widget
      • Headphones and favorite or soothing music on phone/ipad
      • Noise cancelling headphones
      • Sunglasses to shield eyes from fluorescent lights in hospital

How to support your loved one’s peace of mind and ER care

When Checking In:

  • Provide Photo ID, Insurance Card and Medical Power of Attorney
  • Tell the admission clerk you have all medical records and an up-to-date medication list with you.
  • If your loved one suffers from dementia, or is experiencing confusion, ask if the hospital offers a separate “quiet room” to help your loved one feel calm and secure.
  • If a quiet room is not an option and your loved one is truly disruptive and does not respond to the items you’ve brought in your “go bag,” be aware that  a medication may be ordered.
  • Look up every drug ordered for your loved one. If they are 65+, check it on the Beers List. Make sure it does not have a black box warning.

While Waiting for Care:

Ask your loved one to describe what they are feeling.

    • Any Pain? Where?
    • Pain level on a 1-10 scale?
    • Other symptoms, worries, discomforts?
    • When did they start? How? (Triggers?)

Ask your loved one:

    • What do you think is wrong? Why?
    • What are your questions for the doctor?
    • What are your worries?
    •  What do you want to happen here? (Your goal for being treated at the ER?)

Take notes of this conversation to share with your loved one’s doctor/s and other care providers who may attend to your loved on in the ER (or if admitted, other nurses and doctors who may care for your loved one.)

Idea to consider: Take a photo of your notes with your phone and give your notes to the admission desk, telling them you are prepared to meet the doctor – this may be a gentle way of nudging you higher on the waiting list.

Care Partner Project Pain Map form helps you pinpoint and describe pain areas  for the doctor.

Ask before any medication is given to your loved one:

During the Examination:

  • Stay with your loved one.
  • Ask permission to record conversations so you can listen carefully and take notes later. If helpful, ask if you can Facetime the visit with anyone else who may be involved with your loved one’s care.
  • Be sure to include your loved one in all conversations. If they are hearing-impaired, make sure the doctor knows so extra care can be taken to make sure your loved one is included – and not a bystander in his/her own care.
  • If your loved one is experiencing confusion, let all Care Providers know if this is a temporary condition or their usual mental state. In older people, the new or sudden onset of confusion is a red flag for infection –often a urinary tract infection or a brain bleed (any age).
  • Review your loved one’s medication list with the nurse. Tell nurse of any medications that have been taken that day and a few days prior, including herbs, vitamins and any other “drugstore” type remedies.
  • Describe your loved one’s medical concerns calmly and clearly to the nurse and doctor (notes will help).

At the Point of Diagnosis:

A friend stays at the bedside of a woman during an emergency room visit to help communicate and ensure the safest care.

For each test the doctor orders, ask:

    • What will we learn?
    • Is  this information a “nice to know” or “need to know” in order to diagnose or treat? 
    • Ask the doctor for their initial thoughts, or diagnosis.

For every diagnosis, ask:

At the time of Discharge:

  • Ask for “Bedside Huddle” with Doctor, Nurse and Pharmacist.
  • Recording with your phone may be an option! Ask for permission to use.
  • Ask questions and ask for plain terms.
  • Write down all new medication instructions. (See the Care Partner medicines at discharge form designed specifically for this.)
  • Ask for a copy of record of visit, including the doctor notes.
Form to record new medication instructions right during the hospital discharge meeting.

After a visit to the ER

Whether your loved one is recovering at home or in a nursing home/assisted care facility, they will need to be monitored closely, especially if new medications have been prescribed.

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No fluff.  Just quick, simple tips for getting good health care.