January 21, 2012, 12:30 pm

Four Ways To De-Stress Your ER Visit

No one ever wants to go to the emergency department, but unfortunately illness and injuries don’t keep Monday through Friday office hours.

Here are four tips that will make your visit go smoother and keep you safer as you enter the world of the emergency department:


Bring in a copy of your medications, including all vitamins and supplements, and dosages!

Of all the things you can do to prepare for a visit to the emergency department, this is the most important!

Your safety can depend on the accuracy of this list!

Patients often think their medications are “on file” in the hospital record or that the ER has access to their doctor’s office file. This is not the case.

You are the ultimate source for knowing exactly what you take and when, and the ER staff will depend on you for that information. Even if your medications are memorized, in the stress of an emergency visit, you will forget medications or dosages.

Don’t take that chance. Take the time to make that list now, before you need it. Keep a copy on your computer, and keep it updated. Carry a copy with you at all times.


Emergency departments are hectic, crowded places, and visitors are limited to one, maybe two people at the bedside. Everyone else waits in the waiting room.

You should bring someone with you, but limit your companions to two. If you receive pain medication, they can provide a ride home. They can help you get what you need while you are in the department. If English is not your first language, they can help translate. They can provide updates to family and friends on your condition.

Nothing is worse than seeing six adults escort a patient into the ER, only to have four or five of them biding their time in the waiting room until the patient is discharged. Even the simplest complaint can take longer than expected to resolve if the ER is busy.

Do your family and friends a favor. Bring one or two, and keep the rest updated by phone.


Let’s be honest. A trip to the ER means waiting.

Emergency departments are working hard to decrease the amount of time you wait to be seen, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

You wait to be seen by the triage nurse. You wait for the nurse practitioner/physician. You wait for the labs to be drawn, the EKG to be done, for radiology to be ready to do your x-ray…for the results of the lab, of the CT scan…for the specialist…for the discharge instructions.

In ER, we wait quickly!

The best hedge against having to wait is to bring something to do while you wait!

Bring a book, a Kindle, a magazine. Crochet. Knit. Do a crossword puzzle.

Have an iPad? Watch a movie, surf the web.

Here’s where that cell phone comes in handy. I’ve seen parents entertain kids with videos and games on their cell phones.


Cell phones are absolutely fantastic in the ER for keeping boredom at bay while waiting and for keeping family and friends up to date on your condition. But…

Don’t let them interfere with your healthcare by taking your attention away from what’s happening around you!

Texting during physical exams, answering calls or texting during the triage interview, continuing to talk on the phone when the doctor is standing at the bedside to discuss your case, all these things take away from the one thing you are there to focus on: your health.

Give the nurses and doctors your undivided attention. Just remember, there isn’t a text or a phone call as important as your health!


Hopefully, you won’t have to visit an ER in the near future. But if you do, these four tips: (a) Bring the list, (2) limit your companions to two, (c) bring something to do while you wait and (d) keep that cell phone in perspective, will make your trip to the ER a little less frantic!


  • Shelley R

    January 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I wish i could print this and send it to EVERYBODY! So helpful!

  • Susan

    January 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I wish I could hang this on the wall of our ER! I also wish I could blog about work, but they’re pretty sticky about that.

  • dr-lasermed

    January 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Absolutely awesome article. I wish everyone would be this realistic. People have forgotten how to wait.
    The tip about cell phones is great, too. I hate talking to people who get interrupted by their phones.

  • ER/DR

    January 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    the best way to cut down on your wait time: don’t come to the ER if it’s not an emergency!

  • Another ER doc

    January 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    The reason a trip to the ER means waiting is all the non-emergent things clogging up the place. If you truly have an emergency, you wont wait one second. Emergencies are what we do. If you find yourself waiting for hours you probably don’t need to be here.

  • Edwin Leap

    January 24, 2012 at 8:08 am


    Great post! Should be on the entry to every ED in America.


  • Terri Polick

    January 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    As usual, another great post.

  • Grand Rounds begins: health tips | Health

    January 24, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    […] Nurses are expert healthcare navigators. Nurse Kim McAllister offers four tips to make your ER visit run more smoothly. […]

  • Why Wait? | Masters in Nursing Blog

    February 28, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    […] recently wrote a blog post on how to de-stress your ER visit, including a tip on bringing something to do while you waited. […]

  • Becoming an EMT

    March 20, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Thanks for the great article, these tips are sure to work well, I find Im the person attached to my phone, it seems to ease tension the most.

  • […] to Bring At the ER, be prepared to list all of your medications, including vitamins and supplements, and dosages to ensure your safety during treatment. You […]

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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