We all want to avoid receiving senior care in the emergency room but that’s not always possible. While there are ways seniors can prevent and reduce trips to the emergency room, in this post we focus on what you can expect once you are there.
If you do find yourself heading to the emergency room by yourself or with a loved one, you can typically expect the following series of events: transportation, arrival/triage, treatment, discharge or admission.
Let’s take each step one-by-one so you know what to expect.
Senior Transportation to the Emergency Room
In some cases, a true emergency occurs and you or your loved one cannot safely navigate to the hospital in your car. In those cases, please dial 9-1-1, and summon emergency personnel to your home straight away. They will transport you by ambulance to the nearest and most appropriate medical center. In almost every case, your loved one will need to travel separately in another car. But, if you’re caring for someone with dementia who may become seriously disoriented and confused, it’s ok to ask if you can ride along.
Other times, when a loved one’s medical problems are seriously concerning but don’t require an ambulance, you may prefer to drive them to the hospital. Or, if you live alone, you might ask a friend or family neighbor to drive you. This occurs frequently during after-hour or weekend situations when you or your loved one’s regular physician may not be available. Or, when you have a chronic but serious condition like strokes, heart disease, pulmonary impairments or cancer that requires careful monitoring.
Patient Arrival and Triage
If you travel by ambulance to the emergency room, you will be transported to a dedicated area for drop-off and routed back to the triage area. In urgent and life-threatening cases, the EMS personnel contact the Emergency Room team while en route. This ensures there is a bed available to treat you upon arrival.
Alternatively, if you drive to the Emergency Room, you will simply find a parking spot, and proceed into the designed area to the front desk reception. Either way, you will be subject to the hospital’s ‘triage’ system.
In triage, patients with more urgent medical conditions receive care first. This means that a patient having a heart attack is seen sooner than someone with a sprained ankle, regardless of what time they arrive.
After you explain your emergency, a triage nurse assesses your or your loved one’s condition. Then, you either wait in an exam room or in the larger, ER waiting room depending on how serious the illness is.
Emergency Room Treatment for Seniors
It’s important to remember that the purpose of the Emergency Room is to quickly stabilize and treat seriously ill patients. They will not review your entire medical history prior to treating you. But, the nurse who takes you or your loved one back to the exam room will ask you questions about your medical history. They’ll also likely take your or your loved one’s vitals.
While waiting in the exam room or before going back, you’ll also complete paperwork that asks further questions about your medical history, current medication list, current problems and includes basic information about your insurance, date-of-birth, etc.
During treatment, a doctor will examine you as soon as possible and order any additional tests or images as needed. These tests could include X-rays, blood analysis or CT scans. These tests are then evaluated by a specialist in the ER who you may or may not meet.
Following test analysis and their observation and assessment, your Emergency Room Doctor will review all the data and explain next steps in your care.
The Final Step: Admission or Discharge?
When your Emergency Room Doctor is explaining next steps, they will recommend discharge or admission. If they recommend admission, this typically means they want you or your loved one monitored for a period of time. Or, they might have concerns that you are experiencing other medical problems and need additional tests and scans. Either way, they’ll communicate their concerns to you or your loved one. Next, you or your loved one receive your room assignment and are transported upstairs.
While admissions are common, most people hope for a speedy discharge. In the event of a discharge, the Emergency Room Doctor will let you know that you can go home with instructions and review those instructions with you. Then, a nurse follows up after with the doctor’s full instructions, any prescriptions the doctor wrote, and a recommended referral back to your existing physician.
It’s very important to listen carefully to discharge instructions and to ask any questions you have before leaving.
In Summary: Senior Care in the Emergency Room
In closing, we hope you or your loved one never finds yourself in the Emergency Room. But, if you do, we hope this post is helpful. Before we go, we’d like to leave you with a final note regarding senior care in the emergency room during Covid-19. Hospitals are following CDC guidelines but each have different visitor rules and policies due to the pandemic. If you or your loved one is visiting the Emergency Room with a suspected or positive Covid-19 diagnosis, please disclose that immediately. Patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 are separated from other patients, visitation may be limited and masks are required in all Emergency Rooms for now.