If you’re experiencing a sudden, unforeseeable medical event, the emergency room is designed to provide you with immediate and necessary medical care. However, determining when to go to the emergency room can be challenging for many people. It’s easy to justify a trip to the emergency room when experiencing intense pain or discomfort, but is it always necessary? Read on to find out when you should consider going to the emergency room and what to expect when you arrive.
What constitutes a medical emergency?
Before heading to the emergency room, it’s essential to understand what constitutes a medical emergency. A medical emergency is any situation that requires immediate medical attention to prevent serious harm or death. These situations are sudden, unexpected, and often life-threatening. Common examples of medical emergencies include:
- Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Lacerations or bleeding that won’t stop
- Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Severe allergic reactions
- Head or neck injuries
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Sudden and severe headache
- Breathing difficulties
- Loss of consciousness
When should you NOT go to the emergency room?
While the emergency room is always open and available to treat patients, certain situations do not require immediate emergency attention. It’s important to consider alternative treatment options before deciding to go to the emergency room for specific medical issues. Some examples include:
- Common colds, flu, or mild fevers
- Minor injuries such as mild cuts, scrapes, or bruises
- Small burns or chemical irritations
- Earaches, sore throats, or mild headaches
- Non-life-threatening conditions such as a sprained ankle or back pain
If you’re unsure whether a medical issue requires emergency attention, contact your doctor’s office immediately or call an after-hours medical hotline. Many medical hotlines are staffed with registered nurses who can provide helpful guidance on whether you should seek emergency care.
Preparing for your emergency room visit
If you decide to go to the emergency room, you should prepare yourself for the experience. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure your visit is as smooth and efficient as possible:
1. Bring a list of medications and allergies
You should bring a list of any medications you are currently taking, including the dosage, frequency, and the reason for taking them. It’s also essential to list any allergies you have, including food allergies or allergies to medications.
2. Bring a list of previous medical procedures and conditions
Your medical history is essential for the emergency room staff to understand your baseline health status and previous medical procedures you’ve undergone. Bring any relevant medical records, including surgeries or hospitalizations, and a list of any chronic medical conditions you may have.
3. Bring your insurance information
Make sure to bring your insurance card with you to the emergency room. It’s also critical to understand your insurance policy and coverage limits.
4. Bring a support person
It’s always helpful to bring a family member or friend with you to the emergency room. Your loved one can advocate for you as needed and provide essential support during moments of high stress and anxiety.
What to expect when you arrive
When you arrive at the emergency room, you’ll complete a registration process that includes providing your demographics, medical history, and insurance information. Afterward, you’ll be triaged by a nurse or other medical professional, who will determine the acuity of your medical condition and assign a priority level based on that assessment. High-priority cases are seen first, so your wait time will depend on the severity of your condition and how busy the emergency room is. The emergency room staff will work as quickly as possible to provide you with the necessary medical care.
One of the most common questions people have when considering a trip to the emergency room is regarding the cost of care. Emergency room visits are often costly, with the average cost of an emergency room visit in the United States exceeding $1,000. Additionally, depending on your insurance policy, you may be subject to a hefty deductible or out-of-pocket expenses. However, it’s important to understand that the emergency room is designed to provide necessary medical care regardless of your ability to pay. Emergency room staff will prioritize your medical needs above any financial considerations, so don’t let cost prevent you from seeking necessary medical care.
Deciding whether to go to the emergency room is a difficult decision, but remember that the emergency room is always open to provide medical care when you need it most. By understanding what constitutes a medical emergency, adequately preparing for your visit, and understanding the cost considerations, you can make an informed decision about seeking emergency medical care.
1. How long do I have to wait in the emergency room?
The wait time in the emergency room varies depending on the severity of your condition, the time of day, and how busy the emergency room is. High-priority cases are triaged and seen first, with less critical cases waiting longer. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, speak up and let the staff know.
2. Can I get treated at the emergency room regardless of whether I have insurance?
Yes, you can get treated at the emergency room regardless of whether or not you have insurance. Federal law prohibits hospitals from denying emergency medical care based on a patient’s ability to pay.
3. What if I’m sent home and my symptoms persist?
If you’re discharged from the emergency room and your symptoms persist or worsen, you should follow up with your primary care physician or seek emergency medical care as needed.
4. Will I receive pain medication for my condition?
The treatment plan for your medical condition will depend on the severity of your condition and the cause of your symptoms. Pain medication may be prescribed as part of your treatment plan, but it’s important to understand that the emergency room staff will work to treat the underlying cause of your pain rather than just masking the symptoms with pain medication.
5. What if I don’t speak English?
Most hospitals and emergency rooms have interpreters available to assist with translation services. Don’t let language barriers prevent you from seeking necessary medical care.
6. Can I bring my child to the emergency room?
Yes, you can bring your child to the emergency room if they’re experiencing a medical emergency. It’s important to provide the staff with accurate medical history and insurance information for your child.
7. What if I’m experiencing a mental health crisis?
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, the emergency room staff will likely triage your case and provide you with immediate medical care. However, depending on the severity of your case, you may be referred to a mental health specialist for ongoing treatment.
- “When should you go to the emergency room?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/when-to-go-to-emergency-room/art-20218038.
- “The Cost of Emergency Room Visits.” Investopedia, Dotdash, 7 May 2021, www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/121915/cost-emergency-room-visits.asp.