Sitting on the edge of your couch, you’re likely drawn in by the wonder of what goes on in the TV-depicted emergency room. The sirens. The bright lights. The rush of medical teams to someone’s side. Medical dramas — both of fiction and of real-life accounts — tell emotionally charged stories about moments that test the human body — in mind, body, and spirit — bringing compassion and hope when every minute counts.
And while no one ever wants to be in these emergent situations, our hearts know that medical emergencies appear when we least expect them and that these TV stories might, in some way, help us prepare if they ever do.
But medical dramas are not the best ways to “prepare.” In fact, real-life emergency rooms are very different than those on TV, according to Nikki McGlone, RN, clinical nurse leader for the Florida Hospital emergency department service line. After over 19 years of experience as an emergency room nurse, McGlone insightfully shares that people can be fearful or overwhelmed, especially when they don’t know what to expect.
And while you can never be fully prepared, McGlone shares her insight into what you might expect during an emergency room visit, with some tips to help reduce stress and improve your experience.
What to Expect in the ER
When you walk through the doors of an emergency department, the first thing you might see is people waiting for many reasons. Try to take a deep breath — you never know what to expect. “You could be the only one there, or at peak times there could be a crowd of people waiting to be seen for various reasons,” explains McGlone.
“Trust that the emergency department will do everything possible to see you as quickly as possible,” says McGlone.
She adds that Florida Hospital’s Emergency Departments are very diligent to create the most calming and welcoming environment possible while minimizing wait times. Due to the unpredictable nature of medical emergencies, emergency departments must see the most critical patients first, there could be a wait on any given day.
After you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a registration representative who will ask some questions and enter your information into the system. “The goal is to start your care as quickly as possible,” says McGlone. Having this information will enable the nurses to initiate your care in Triage.
During registration, expect to share the following information:
- Your name
- Date of birth
- Mailing address
- Name of primary care doctor
- Reason for emergency department visit
- Photo ID
Once you are registered your care begins.
You’ll see a nurse who will review your:
- Chief complaint (reason for your visit to the emergency room)
- Vitals (blood pressure, pulse, and temperature)
- Acuity scale (from most life-threatening (1) to least life-threatening (5))
“Next, you are brought back into the emergency room and are seen by a medical provider in an appropriate space, which most of the time is a room, but it could be another treatment space within the emergency room,” states McGlone.
Depending on the reason for your visit, you could be evaluated by an emergency medicine physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, in addition to registered nurses and emergency room staff that are part of your care team. After your team talks to you and your family, they will develop an individualized plan of care.
Individualized Care Plan
Your plan of care could include monitoring, observation and other medical tests that will help the team to get more information about your health, such as:
- Cat Scan
“Most of these diagnostic tests can be performed in the emergency room, but sometimes patients are transported to another location within the hospital or provided a prescription to have a diagnostic test completed on an outpatient basis and asked to follow up with their primary care doctors after leaving the emergency department,” explains McGlone.
“Once all testing is completed, an emergency room medical provider determines whether each patient can be treated in the emergency room, transitioned to follow up with primary care outside of the hospital, or needs further evaluation and care within the hospital,” states McGlone. She reports that on average, 70 percent of patients go home from the emergency department with 30 percent admitted to the hospital.
“Our goal at the emergency department is to stabilize and guide each person to the right plan of care moving forward,” says McGlone. Highly experienced staff do their best to attend to each patient and family’s every need within their ability by rounding in the emergency room and keeping each patient and family informed with progress, updates and care plans,” she adds.
It’s important to know that the emergency department provides initial treatment and patients should have follow-up care that includes making an appointment to see their primary care doctor within a specific time frame or coordinating further specialist or diagnostic testing as appropriate.
In addition, Florida Hospital helps patients that do not have a primary care doctor establish one to achieve continuity of care. The Florida Hospital Care Network offers patients throughout Central Florida quick access to some of the local area’s most experienced physicians and specialists in nearly every practice area. “Our approach is to help patients achieve their full health potential beyond our emergency department”.
For some illnesses, Florida Hospital’s staff follow up with patients after returning home to see how they are feeling if they have followed up with their primary care doctor, and help them overcome any challenges in doing so,” notes McGlone.
Emergency Room Preparation Tips
Now that you have a better idea of what to expect at the emergency room, McGlone offers her emergency preparation tips:
“If you are questioning whether you need to go to an emergency room, you shouldn’t hesitate in going to be evaluated,” advises McGlone. It is always best to be safe and have trained medical professionals assess your health and provide guidance.
Research your local emergency departments and have a plan for how you and your family will respond to different levels of medical emergencies in the future. Know when to call 9-1-1, when to go to the emergency room and when urgent care could be the best option for care.
“For life-threatening medical emergencies, like any possible head or spinal cord injury, accident, heart attack or stroke, never delay in calling 9-1-1 immediately for the fastest response and medical attention,” advises McGlone.
Throughout Central Florida, Florida Hospital’s Care Network includes 9 emergency room locations. Or for injuries or illnesses that don’t require emergency-level attention, Florida Hospital’s 31 Centra Care Urgent Care locations are available to help.
Here are some things to include in your family’s medical emergency plan:
- Preferred emergency room and urgent care center names (this could include pediatric and adult emergency rooms for different members of your family)
- Emergency room address, driving directions and phone number
- Parking instructions
- Family call/contact lists
- Items to pack (phone charger, book, tablet, personal items, identification, insurance cards, comfort items, for example)
Maintain Your Family Health Records and Documentation
Keeping a copy of your and your family’s medications/dosages, vaccinations, allergies, insurance card, personal identification and other important health records accessible in your wallet or purse could be extremely helpful to first responders and emergency medicine care teams during an emergency.
“The quicker responders and care teams have this information, the faster they can facilitate the best possible care for you or a family member,” explains McGlone. She adds that during a time that will inherently be stressful, having this information on hand will help to reduce added pressure to gather it.
The ER is a Place of Hope
It’s important to know that the emergency department is staffed with very qualified doctors, nurses and medical professionals ready to help anyone that comes into its doors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter what.
“The emergency department serves such an important role in our communities – it isn’t a “scary” place like what you might see on TV,” McGlone concludes.