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What to ask when leaving the ER

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
August 27, 2008 3:37:22 PM PDT
The Center for Disease Control says emergency room visits are skyrocketing from year to year, sometimes because patients doctors are booked up and the ER is the only other solution. But a new study finds that some patients are not clear on what to do when they leave emergency care.It's the nature of emergency medicine. People are sometimes deathly sick and ERs may seem to be chaotic. It's no wonder that there are patients who get confused about their instructions at discharge.

"We're all out of our own element, and we're intimidated," said Dr. Robert Femia, of Lenox Hill Hospital. "Patients tend not to ask questions. They see the frenetic pace, and sometimes, we don't fee that physicians and nurses have the time, when actually we do."

The new study of ERs found that 50 percent or more of patients have poor comprehension of what to do after a visit. Nicole Janik hurt her knee and went the ER for care. She also remembers other times at the emergency room.

"Usually, you're leaving and you're in pain," she said. "Sometimes they've already given you something for it, and you're signing things left and right, trying to remember what they told you to do when you leave."

They can including things like instructions for that night, where to get follow-up care the next day and what pills to take.

If you ever have to go to the ER, here are some tips. First, take a friend or a family member with you who can help keep track of instructions when your discharged.

Dr. Femia suggests repeating the orders back to the doctor to make sure you both have it right.

"You might say, 'OK, so I'm supposed to leave and take this medicine, and if I'm not getting better, I'm supposed to follow up with this doctor in the next three or four days, is that correct?'" he said.

Nicole says her instructions were very clear. But it helps to see them in black and white.

"Get it in writing, on paper, because you think you're going to remember, even if they tell you how and when to take the prescription that they give you, and you never do," she said.

Be careful with those written instructions, though. Doctors may not discuss them with patients or they may not be legible. Read them carefully and ask questions if there's something you don't understand. You may be leaving the ER, but the emergency care continues until you see your own doctor.

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STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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