Health Break | Published October 9, 2008 | Written by Kathy Dittmann, RN

Be Prepared For An Emergency Department Visit

It is reassuring to know that when someone has a medical emergency the emergency department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Patients may seek care for life threatening issues involving their heart or breathing, or for a variety of conditions and injuries that range from urgent to a minor aliment. Regardless of why a patient comes to the emergency department every patient is anxious, perceives that they have an emergency and would like to be seen immediately by a physician.

When someone goes to a store or restaurant, they expect to be served in the order in which they arrive, however, in the emergency department care is not delivered on a first come, first served basis. Patients are greeted at the front desk and will be asked for their name and a brief complaint; this information facilitates patient flow through triage. Hospital emergency departments use a system called triage to rapidly assess patients.

Triage nurses are experienced emergency department professionals who determine the severity of a patients condition and appropriately assign the patient to treatment areas. In the triage area the nurse will obtain a brief history and assess blood pressure, pulse, respirations and temperature. The patient will then be directed to the appropriate care area based on their condition which may be life threatening, urgent or non-urgent. Sometimes patients are directed back to the waiting area until a treatment room is available.

Wait times vary due to the severity of the symptoms and how busy the emergency department is. When someone has pain or does not feel well it is difficult to wait. It is important to remember that every patient will be seen as soon as possible and the staff is giving their full attention to the patients they are currently seeing. If a patients condition changes while they are waiting they should notify the staff for revaluation.

If possible, bring a current list of medications and allergies, and try to avoid eating or drinking prior to coming to the emergency department. Patients should wear comfortable clothes and leave valuables at home. If possible, children should be left with family or friends when parents are in the emergency department so that parents can focus on their health needs. With privacy issues and space limitations visitors are kept at a minimum while being seen in the emergency department.

Many patients have diagnostic imaging done and may wait for a radiologist to interpret the images. The emergency department physician or physicians assistant will need the results before making a diagnosis and planning treatment. When a patient is discharged they will receive an explanation of care and discharge instructions. It is important to remember that emergency care has been provided and it is always best to follow-up with your regular doctor in a few days. If a patient is to be admitted to the hospital there are several steps involved in the process. First, the emergency department will notify the appropriate physician. Next, the admitting physician will come in to see the patient, write admission orders, and then, the patient is moved to a room.

It is normal for a patient to feel anxious during an emergency room visit due to pain, feeling poorly and not knowing what to expect. Be assured that the staff in registration and the emergency department will take very good care of every patient, every day.

Kathy Dittmann, RN, is the director of service excellence at Mount Nittany Medical Center.