Five Common Emergency Room Dangers and How to Avoid Them

By Lee Bellinger / January 2, 2014

If you’re very sick or injured and you need help right away, you don’t have a lot of options other than an emergency room. When you’re up against a heart attack, stroke, or life-threatening physical trauma, you don’t just go to the emergency room, you call 9-1-1, and get there as quick as you can.

On the other hand, long emergency-room waits, overextended doctors and nurses, and exposure to new germs – especially when your health is already compromised – can lead to new health problems that you wouldn’t have had to contend with had you avoided the local ER.

Whenever you or a loved one enters an emergency room setting, you should be on the watch for five dangers that could put your health – even your life – in jeopardy.

1. Hospital-acquired infections: Roughly 1.7 million people fall ill to hospital-acquired infections each year. Those are just the reported infections. In a recent report, authorities estimated that some hospitals under-report these infections by as much as a third!

2. Misdiagnosis: Overextended medical staff may give you a wrong diagnosis that could result in the wrong treatment. In studies of autopsies, researchers found that doctors misdiagnose about one in five fatal disease cases.

3. Misreading Test Results: Closely associated with misdiagnosis, if your ER doctor or nurse misreads your test results, you won’t get the right treatment.

4. Wrong Medication: Medication errors are a major public health crisis. Hospital-reported drug errors number in the thousands every week.

5. Wrong Dosages: Even if the ER staff gives you the right medication, if they give you the wrong amount, you could be in big trouble. It’s not unheard of that patients have been given 1,000 times the proper dosage because of confusion about package labeling.

Avoiding these common dangers starts with avoiding the emergency room in the first place.

When You Don’t Need to Go to the Emergency Room

Truly, there are very few situations that require an emergency room visit. But a lot of people tend to treat the ER like an alternative to their doctor’s office. That means that wait times are long and there’s a high probability you’ll be exposed to some nasty germs during your visit.

The handful of situations that call for an emergency room visit include, but aren’t limited to, when:

  • You think you’re having a heart attack or if you have persistent chest pain.
  • You’re experiencing the symptoms of a stroke.
  • You’re short of breath.
  • You’re cut and the bleeding won’t stop – after ten minutes seek emergency help.
  • You’ve ingested a poison.
  • You’ve experienced a head trauma.
  • You suspect an injury or issue with a major organ.
  • You have a complicated or compound bone fracture.
  • You’re showing the signs of a bad infection – high fever, ashen skin, redness at the site of an injury.
  • You’re vomiting blood. In most other situations – minor cuts that need stitches, minor burns, minor bone injuries, and mild to moderate illnesses – a trip to a nearby urgent care facility or to your regular doctor will do the trick.

How to Come through Your ER Visit Unscathed

If you find yourself in an emergency room, you can take several steps to protect yourself from the common dangers you’ll face.

First, do a little research ahead of time. Some emergency rooms are much better about reducing wait times, maintaining a sterile environment, and delivering high-quality care than others. Find out your best local option, and if you ever need emergency care, request a specific hospital.

Next, if at all possible, don’t go to the emergency room alone. Have a friend or loved one come with you – someone who is calm and steady under pressure and willing to ask the doctors and nurses lots of questions. Whether you’re in the role of patient or advocating for a loved one, you can reduce the chance of picking up a hospital infection by wearing a surgical mask during your wait. And, if possible, make sure you wash your hands whenever you move from one place to the next. Most hospital rooms have sinks. Don’t be shy about asking to wash your hands when you enter.

Be straightforward when talking to the doctor or nurse about your symptoms. Don’t exaggerate them and don’t downplay them. Ask questions about the steps the doctor is taking. If he’s requesting tests, ask what tests and what he expects to find or rule out.

Your questions do two things. They make the doctors and nurses give more thought to what they’re doing – if they have to explain something, they’re thinking it through as they go. And they establish your active role in the care you (or your loved one) are receiving. Your questions can cut down on misdiagnosis and mistreatment errors.


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