Sometimes you get hit by a bus.


Sometimes you have time to plan a surgical procedure with your medical team over a period of weeks or months. But sometimes medical emergencies happen without any warning. In this post, we’ll review some of the important ways that you can prepare for unexpected medical emergencies. Following some of these simple steps won’t prevent you from winding up in the hospital, but they may make your experience better and more efficient.

1. Have your most important medical information on your person.

If you’re alone and unable to speak when you arrive in an emergency room, it’s important that the medical staff treating you still know about medical conditions and medications that might change the care that you receive. If you have any major medical conditions, have any implanted devices, or take or have allergies to medications, that information should be available to your medical team.

People with serious conditions such as severe allergies, implantable devices, or seizure histories, or who take blood thinning medications often wear Medic-Alert jewelry, which has a brief description of the problem and a number that your team can call to get more information. For a medical provider, that’s the perfect scenario–an immediate indicator of things to look out for, and a number to call for detailed information that’s available around the clock. But if you don’t have an immediately life-threatening condition, keeping a card in your wallet with key phone numbers and a list of medications you take is very helpful.

2. Put your information on paper.

Many people keep their important health information and contact phone numbers secured electronically on their smartphones. Unfortunately, phones can be difficult for medical team members to access–they can require an access code, run out of battery power, or just be so full of information that we don’t know where to look. A simple wallet-sized card with key information and the contact numbers for your healthcare decision maker written or typed out is much more effective in an emergency.

3. Have a designated healthcare decision maker (or two).

It’s vital that you have identified someone who can make decisions and represent your wishes to your medical team in case you are unable make medical decisions for yourself. This is especially important if you don’t want everything done, since without permission to do otherwise, doctors are generally required to give you maximal medical therapy. For more information on healthcare decision makers, see my post here.

4. If it’s an emergency, call 911.

If you think you are having a real health emergency, it’s much better to arrive at the hospital by ambulance than to walk in to the waiting room of the emergency department. You’ll get medical care much faster, get to the hospital quicker, and be seen more promptly if you call 911. Definitely don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital if you feel sick.

5. Think about whether you need a higher level of care.

Small community hospitals can treat many common ailments and perform many common operations without issue. But for serious illness or injury, larger hospitals–called tertiary centers–with more capabilities and experience have been shown to have better outcomes. If you or your loved one has a life-threatening condition, ask your medical team if they would recommend transfer to another facility. Likewise, if you have concerns about the quality of care being provided, you can always request a transfer to another hospital.

6. Check your insurance.

Many insurance policies include coverage for helicopter evacuation or transport back to your home hospital if you are travelling. Some do not. If you live in a remote area where getting to a hospital quickly would mean a helicopter flight, consider getting a policy that covers that, since a helicopter flight can be enormously expensive. Likewise, if you’ll be travelling, especially to another country, get travel and repatriation insurance to cover the cost of care you receive there, and the cost of getting home for care in your community.

Of course, it’s impossible to be prepared for every bad thing that can happen. But taking these simple steps may save you a lot of trouble if you find yourself in the hospital unexpectedly.

This story originally appeared in the  Health Dialog Care Compass Blog.

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