Be ER Prepared: Adults

If it isn’t serious, consider getting an immediate appointment with your family doctor or going to a walk-in clinic.  Keep in mind, however, that an ER is always ready to receive you if you need immediate medical attention.

In some situations you should go to the ER right away.  These include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Sudden onset of severe headache
  • Broken bones
  • change in mental status such as suddenly becoming confused, disoriented and not making sense or unusually sleepy or difficult to arouse
  • a cut or break in the skin with bleeding that won’t stop
  • severe bleeding or head trauma
  • stiff neck along with fever
  • fever with a rapidly spreading rash
  • rapid heartbeat that doesn’t slow down
  • change in behaviour after a suspected ingestion of poisonous substance or medication
    • Please note: in any possible poisoning, call the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (For poisoning questions or emergencies, call 24-hour line at 604-682-5050 or 1-800-567-8911) for expert advice and they may direct you to the ER

Ask questions. Research has shown that if patients don’t speak up and ask, often doctors will assume patients understand or do not want to know.

On the other hand, doctors cannot know everything you are experiencing.  It is important to speak up and be as specific and detailed as you can be.  Both patient and doctor need to communicate openly and ensure a free flow of information. Questions should include what medications you should resume at home and which new ones should you take, what symptoms should prompt a visit back to the ER, and when to follow up with your family doctor.

Help the doctor get a clear picture of your problem. Your doctor will want to know how your health is normally, and when things took the turn for the worse that made you come to the hospital.  Try to think of how long your symptoms have lasted, where they are located.  If you have had tests done recently, your doctor will want to know why they were done, when they were done, and what the results were.  Please bring copies of any medical reports you may have. 

Know the names of your doctors, including specialists, and what they help you with.

Be aware of when you last ate or drank.  In some situations you might need surgery, and it will be important to plan the operation for when you have an empty stomach.

Bring a list of your medications and allergies. Certain drug allergies or interactions can harm or even kill you. To begin treatment, doctors will ideally need to find out about all the medications you’re taking.   Take note of all of the medications you are currently using – quoting the correct names and dosages — on a card that you keep in your wallet.  Or, throw your medications into a bag and take them to the hospital.

Repeat to the doctor in your own words what is wrong and what your at-home treatment plan is before you leave.  This gives both you and the doctor the opportunity to ensure that you have an accurate understanding and it will help you retain the information.  Take notes if possible.  Do not leave the ER until you fully understand what happened, what is wrong, what your care should be and when to follow up with your family doctor.

Bring somebody with you. It’s likely that when you go to the ER, you won’t be feeling your best and your concentration and focus will be suffering as a result. It’s always a good idea to bring somebody with you — a spouse or a trusted friend — who can help answer questions about your condition and remind you of any information the medical team gives you during the assessment and about your treatment plan.  If English is not your first language, try to bring someone who speaks both your language and English fluently.

Bring comfort items. Bottled water, hand sanitizer, tissues, an extra sweater, healthy snacks and cash for the cafeteria or vending machines could all come in handy during a long wait.

Bring something to read. It will help the time pass and may relieve some anxiety by taking your mind off your surroundings.

Try to be understanding. The reality of the ER is that unless you’re dying, you’re going to be treated after someone who is likely much sicker.  That said, ER staff are doing their best to get to you quickly and they will be responsive if you have a reasonable request.  If your grandmother’s pain is worsening, for instance, let the staff know of the change in her status since your check-in and ask if someone can check on her quickly.

ER Report Cards

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