Making the Most of an ER Visit

If you are considering visiting an Emergency Room for immediate medical care, chances are you’re not having a great day, but a little planning and preparation can go a long way towards making your trip as efficient, safe and painless as possible. Read on to learn how you can make ER visits much more pleasant.

Deciding to go to the ER

The first step to an ER visit is determining if you really need to go. If you are experiencing acute emergency symptoms you should get to an ER immediately, however even if your symptoms are not immediately debilitating, it is usually best to err on the side of caution and arrange a visit – better to be safe than sorry.

Planning Ahead

No matter how healthy you might be, there’s always a chance of a sudden medical emergency.  Follow these prep tips so you are prepared for the unexpected:

Wallet Cards – You already carry an ID and health insurance card in your wallet, but adding two additional documents can make a big difference in the ER. 

Your first wallet card should be an In Case of Emergency (ICE) Card.  This card should list the contact details of at least one, preferably two trusted friends of family members who can assist you during an emergency, as well as the name and number of your primary care physician and bold text that reads “Emergency Contact Numbers.”

Your second wallet card should serve as a pocket reference for your medical history.  Clearly list all medications you currently take, and allergies, blood type and past surgeries or major medical events.   

These two cards should be easy to find in your wallet – try stacking them between your ID and insurance card.

Preferred ERChoosing what ER you visit can have a major impact on your wait times and overall experience.  Discuss with your primary care physician which ER would be the best for your needs during your next visit and request to be taken there, if given the option.

Hospital Go-Bag This bag is very similar to a traditional emergency preparedness go-bag, holding some basic necessities to keep you comfortable during an ER visit, as well as important medical paperwork. Consider packing the following:

    • Small bottle of water
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Phone charge
    • Book/entertainment material
    • Notepad and pen
    • More detailed list of medical history and emergency contacts etc. (see wallet card entries above)

 In addition to holding these supplies, you will likely be given a fair amount of paperwork while at the ER, and having a bag to tote  around these documents will help prevent you from losing things during your stay.

Arrange Travel Driving or walking to the ER alone can be extremely dangerous, so having a nearby friend or emergency contact that can assist you is critical.  If you must go it alone, having a car service on your emergency contact list can save lots of last-minute scrambling and get you to the ER faster.  Ambulances are costly, but in the event of a serious medical emergency, they are often the fastest way to reach a hospital quickly – just be sure to identify where you wish to be taken.


Patients are often frustrated by the hurry-up-and-wait experience of a modern ER, so be prepared to handle some administrative tasks.  Upon entering the ER, register with the front desk and briefly explain your problem. After filling out basic paperwork, a triage nurse will usually speak with the patient to get relevant information.

During intake, keep your explanation of the problem short and sweet.  While you should provide your medical history documentation, only discuss things relevant to the problem that brought you to the ER.

When asked questions, be completely honest with the triage nurse do not exaggerate the symptoms you are experiencing, but also do not downplay any pain or sensations you are experiencing. By being honest with hospital staff, you are ensuring they will take you at your word if your symptoms later change.  

As your intake session ends, ask specifically what the next steps will be in your care and ask for an estimate for when this next step will take place.


This is often the most difficult part of an ER visit but, remember, that patients will be seen based on immediate need and if you are forced to wait a long time, it means hospital staff are currently working on more urgent cases.  Here are some things to do during this time:

  • Politely check in with ER staff roughly every half hour. An ER is a busy place, and a periodic, friendly check in on the status of your care can ensure you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
  • Check in with your friends and loved ones when you feel it is appropriate. Your support network outside the hospital can do a lot to help you while you focus on working with ER staff.
  • Check in with your primary care physician’s office and let them know about your ER visit. The sooner they know, the sooner they can begin to schedule a follow up visit based on your experience at the ER.
  • Chances are that you provided your insurance information during the registration process. If possible, check in with the ER’s billing rep and make sure they do not need any additional documentation or information.

Staff interactions and care

An ER is a busy place and time is at a premium. Use these tips to ensure you receive the proper care:

  • Most ER staff must confirm a patient’s identity before performing a test or procedure (they usually ask for your name and date of birth). If a staff member doesn’t do this, or if you are taken away for a procedure that doesn’t seem to make sense, double check they have the right patient.  Accidents do happen.
  • Chances are you are experiencing a fair amount of stress, discomfort and frustration, meaning important information about your health and care may not stay fresh in your memory for long. Consider jotting down some brief notes after each procedure or interaction with medical staff. Always be sure to ask what the next step in your care will be.
  • Stay as upbeat as possible. No one ends up in the ER because something good happened, so the waiting room can feel like a pretty negative place.  Try to stay positive during your visit, especially when interacting with staff. While ER staff will help everyone regardless of their mood, showing your appreciation to staff with a kind word can go a long way towards improving your overall experience. 

The staff at SelectCare Home Care Services hopes you find these tips useful.  Remember, much of your ER experience depends on careful planning before an emergency occurs and a helping hand can go a long way towards making a difficult situation bearable.

If you or a loved one are concerned about how you will handle a medical emergency, or if you are considering bringing a home health care provider into your home, now is the time to call SelectCare or request a free in-home care guide to learn how we help New Yorkers prepare for the unexpected.