Medical emergencies are, by definition, sudden and unexpected. In this episode of The No-Mistake Zone, you’ll learn how to avoid the 5 most common mistakes people make in an emergency.

Mistake #1: Not Knowing When to Call 911

In those first few minutes, it can be difficult to decide: Go to the ER or urgent care clinic? Dial 911 or wait it out? Car or ambulance? You have to seriously judge the patient’s:

  • age
  • health history
  • and the mechanism and seriousness of the injury

Symptoms that require immediate 911 attention include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting (especially with headache)
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Any pain that increases, instead of decreases, over time
  • Any trauma to the head or torso spinal injury
  • Asthma is unpredictable and potentially deadly. If it’s a minor attack that responds nicely to an inhaler, you could safely take them by car to the emergency room. Otherwise, call 911 — and fast.

Mistake #2: Failing to effectively communicate

Medical error is the 3rd leading cause of death in U.S., and while the causes of medical mistakes are many, it often begins with poor communication. Give the staff your full range of symptoms and medical history. Be clear and detailed about what you think your problem is — even if you are cut short.

Mistake #3: Taking children and infants to the wrong emergency room

Parents and grandparents take note: When you have the luxury of time and choice, always take your child to the closest Pediatric Emergency Department. Only dedicated pediatric ERs and children’s hospitals have the specialists, equipment, and technology necessary to care for critically ill children. In a true emergency, an ambulance will take you to the best closest hospital. But if you are driving yourself, a pediatric ER will have the most experienced staff, and the best equipment and technology to care for your child.

Mistake #4: Forgetting Who’s In Charge

Find out who you are dealing with when you are discussing your care. If a clinician doesn’t introduce him or herself, just ask: Are you a resident or the attending physician? If you get admitted to the hospital, chances are you will have numerous students coming to your bedside throughout your stay, and that’s fine. But if you are dealing with a complex issue, be sure to ask that the attending physician be the one caring for you and making the important decisions about your treatment.

Mistake #5: Failing To Get Thorough Discharge Instructions

Whether you’ve been admitted to the hospital for surgery or treatment, or you’ve just spent the better part of your day in the Emergency Department, it’s crucial that you get detailed instructions at discharge. That means you need to find out:

  • What to expect during my recovery?
  • What activities should I avoid, and what do I need to do?
  • How do I properly care for wounds and incision sites?
  • How do I reach medical personnel?
  • If you’ve been prescribed medication, ask: what’s my schedule?

More Resources

For more helpful tips, see The Patient’s Playbook, Chapter 7, Emergency Room 101.

Episode Credits

  • Music is by PremiumBeat
  • The No-Mistake Zone with Leslie Michelson is produced by Lisa Sweetingham
  • Post-Production is by Shelli Gonshorowski and Sarah Lebowitz

Originally published at