Already hurt, sick or in pain, a patient doesn't want to have to pile on the added stress of not knowing what to expect or how long it will take. That's why Pulse spoke with Michael Tarnay, MD, medical director for the new Torrance Memorial Urgent Care Center in Torrance and staff physician at the Manhattan Beach Urgent Care Center, to find out what you should expect when visiting the ED.
Tarnay, also on staff with Torrance Memorial's Emergency Department, offers some tips and insights to streamline the process and ease any anxieties you may have about walking through those double doors.
When should I go to the ED?
There are many symptoms that can be associated with an emergent condition. Most doctors would agree on a short list of problems including:
- Chest pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Any stroke symptoms such as sudden weakness, changes in mental status, vision changes or imbalance
- Unusual abdominal pain
- Significant head injury
- Uncontrolled bleeding
There are many other medical problems that may be appropriate for an Emergency Department evaluation, so you should always call your doctor's office or a nurse's line for help in determining how urgent the situation is. Another option may be to visit an urgent care center (see sidebar). Torrance Memorial Urgent Care offers two locations in the South Bay: Torrance and Manhattan Beach.
What should I expect when I walk in the door of the ED?
Emergency Departments can be busy and chaotic places. The triage nurse is the first person you will visit for an assessment of your medical condition. This is done by evaluating your vital signs, medical complaints and information you provide about past medical problems and allergies. The triage nurse's task is to ensure that patients with urgent medical conditions are promptly seen. Many problems will require blood tests and imaging. Often these tests can be started in the waiting room, particularly on busy days. Blood tests take about an hour for results, and imaging studies can take minutes to more than an hour for interpretation. Based on your results, the emergency physician may have to consult with specialists about your care, and you will be admitted to the hospital or discharged home.
Should I bring anything or anyone with me?
It is a very good idea to bring a family member or friend with you to the ED. This person can help with the history or be the designated driver if your condition requires pain medicines or medicines that are sedating. They can also be a second set of ears when getting treatment and discharge information and, of course, be a source of comfort during a difficult time.
What do you recommend I keep in mind while I wait in the waiting room?
Emergency Departments are structured to take care of all emergencies, and while everyone's reason for coming to the ED is important, patients who have the most serious problems have to be seen first. This means that patients with less serious injuries may have to wait while more seriously ill or injured patients are treated-even if they arrived at the ED at the same time.
Do you have any other tips for going to the ED?
Be as prepared as you can. Bringing a family member or friend advocate will help with this. Here are some things to bring.
- List of all current medications, including "over-the-counter" drugs, herbal remedies and supplements
- List of dosages, when they are taken and the last dose taken
- Primary care physician's name
- List of known allergies and medication reactions
- List of surgeries
- List of medical conditions
- Telephone numbers of family, friends or next of kin
- Insurance card
What should I do if I don't understand my diagnosis and follow-up instructions?
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Standard ED practice is to print your discharge diagnosis with a description in basic terms that should be easy to understand. Medicines prescribed will be listed, and follow-up instructions should be clearly defined. Laboratories and imaging studies should also be included, so you can take them to your doctor. We always recommend a follow-up with your primary doctor to make sure your symptoms are improving.