A patient advocate's guide to ER vists

An emergency room visit is a time of crisis and patients can easily become overwhelmed. And added problems can arise when a loved one ends up in the ER and the family or patient is unprepared--or worse, unaccompanied. This can be incredibly frightening and confusing.

The number one recommendation is to have someone in place ... a relative, family friend, professional advocate ... someone with "feet on the ground" who can meet them and become their advocate. Any hospital situation is overwhelming, the ER is no exception.


So let's focus on simple things we can all do to alleviate the stress of an emergency visit and assist in coordination of care.

Before a crisis occurs, take the time to get organized; being prepared makes an ER visit more manageable. I advise all my clients to gather the following information and put it in a notebook or folder. I prefer the notebook with pockets, because if a client ends up in the ER unaccompanied, the healthcare providers can also make notes in the notebook. This notebook should be kept in an easily accessible place to bring with you to the ER.

  • HIPAA: The HIPAA form should be filled out and signed by you; this form will allow your healthcare providers to share your medical information with whomever you designate in this form. The designated person should also have a copy.

Other documents in the notebook should include:

  • Your name, address and phone number
  • Date of birth
  • Copies of your insurance cards
  • Current list of medications and the dosage amount--as well as any supplements, vitamins, herbs and over the counter pills
  • Medical history--any current conditions, as well as past medical history, including surgeries and injuries
  • Current list of allergies--including drugs (especially drugs) food, pets, pollens, ect. and how your body reactions when exposed to them
  • Any living wills, advanced directives, designated healthcare surrogates or power of attorney
  • List all your doctors and what they are treating you for, as well as your primary care physician

Once you get to the ER, take notes and ask questions. Keep track of the people treating you, get their names and titles. Also make sure you have the name of the doctor who is treating you and his/her contact information.

Ask questions and follow-up questions. Ask what they think is wrong with you. Find out why tests are being ordered and what the medical team hopes to learn from the results. If medication is being administered, find out why and if there are side effects. Ask if there are any contra-indications with any medications you are currently taking.

Feel free to express your opinion. If you disagree, it's okay to say so. Ask and listen to all the explanations and make sure all your options are explained. Always ask if there are any other options.

If you are alone in the ER ask your nurse, doctor and any other clinicians to make notes in your notebook concerning your diagnosis, treatment and discharge plan, as well as any other information they believe may be relevant.

Lastly, before you leave the ER make sure you understand the discharge plan and any follow-up needed.

Advocating for yourself can be difficult, especially when you're sick. If possible, have someone with you, to act as a second set of eyes and ears, ask questions, follow-up and take notes. However being prepared with the above information will help.

Jacqueline O'Doherty is a certified patient advocate based in Peapack, N.J., with Health Care Connect, LLC.