In a study conducted by George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., researchers found that nationally visits to emergency rooms by the elderly have increased more than 34% in the last decade. Although it is unclear exactly why visits by the elderly have increased, the study surmises that the increase may be due to “older people surviving with chronic medical issues, as well as problems the elderly are experiencing accessing primary care doctors.”
Chances are that your aging loved one may need to access immediate emergency care at some point in the future. But, how to access emergency care may not be as obvious as you think. The fact is that we often are not aware of the ins and outs of emergency room care. And that lack of awareness can affect the quality of services that our loved ones receive.
Many people hesitate to call for ambulance transportation to the emergency room unless they are physically unable to transport their aging loved one themselves, or feel that their loved one is experiencing an immediate life-threatening emergency such as a heart attack or stroke. Some caregivers will transport an older person in need of immediate care in a vehicle because it might be faster than waiting for an ambulance. But did you know that there is a difference in emergency room protocol for emergency transport versus personal transport? The fact is that individuals transported to the emergency room via ambulance are seen immediately whereas patients who are transported via personal transportation may have to sit in the waiting room – sometimes for hours – before being seen by a doctor. To minimize the time spent for an emergency room visit, call 911.
Most medication errors in hospitals begin in the emergency room. Additionally, an incomplete medical history can result in errors in providing immediate care to the patient. For these reasons, CareGiver.org, suggests keeping a complete list of medications that your loved one is currently taking, as well as a list of medications that he or she has taken in the past. It is essential to include a list of any medications that the patient might be allergic to. In addition to a list of medications and allergies, it’s a good idea to include a brief medical history of hospitalizations and conditions, as well as contact information for medical care providers, insurance information, and legal documents such as a living will or power of attorney. Keep these lists in an easily accessible place such as near the telephone, on the refrigerator, or by the front door. It’s also a good idea for any regular caregivers to have a copy of the lists in their handbag or wallet in case of an unexpected visit to the emergency room. Update the lists frequently to be able to provide the emergency room staff with the most recent information.
Manage your expectations and adopt stress reducing strategies
The average length of time spent when visiting an emergency room is on the increase, and it’s not uncommon to spend five or more hours in the emergency room. Set your expectations accordingly to reduce the stress you and your parent experience. If the situation you are dealing with is not dire or emergent, take a moment to collect a book, magazine or iPod for you and the care recipient. Emegency rooms typically have sandwiches on hand or will send to the cafeteria for food, should your parent become hungry. If you are in the ER during mealtimes, trays are typically provided for all patients, but not for accompanying parties. Remember to pause and breathe deeply! Studies have found that people under stress breathe much more shallowly as a result of the release of stress hormones. Breathing with deep, slow breathes will counteract this effect.
Be a polite but persistent advocate
Remember you are your parent’s advocate in the emergency room. Make sure you know which nurse and which physician are responsible for your parent. Ask questions about what is being done and why, and make sure that the information makes sense to you. Ask when tests, such as x-rays, are expected to be done – there is frequently a long wait period for diagnostic tests – and when test results are expected. If it doesn’t happen within this general time frame, check with the staff. It’s important to maintain a sense of calmness and work cooperatively with the ER staff. If you have concerns about what is happening that are not addressed by the ER staff, ask to speak with the hospital’s supervisor of nursing.
Accessing emergency room care can be confusing because of the emotional undertones of the situation and most people’s lack of knowledge of medical services. Making sure that an aging loved one receives the best medical care possible might be as simple as knowing what goes on behind the scenes in the emergency room. Taking the guesswork out of what happens at the hospital can make emergency care easier to manage.