Advocate For Your Health: A Guide For Older Adults in The Emergency Room

A visit to the emergency room can be a daunting experience for anyone. But for older adults with cognitive and health decline, it can be especially challenging. Aging often brings with it a higher likelihood of health complications, and drug-disease interactions. All too often, patients enter and exit the emergency room without an accurate diagnosis and are prescribed unnecessary risky drugs. It’s crucial for older adults to have an advocate in the emergency room to ensure they receive the best possible care. In this blog, we will discuss some essential tips and strategies for older adults to receive adequate care in the emergency room.

Bring a Healthcare Advocate

If possible, consider bringing a trusted family member or friend with you to the emergency room. Having an advocate by your side helps ensure that your concerns are heard, and that important information regarding your treatment is understood. If an advocate is present they can also provide important medical history if you’re unable. During this stressful time an advocate can also provide much needed emotional support.

Share Your Medical History

One of the most critical aspects of advocating for yourself in the emergency room is sharing your complete medical history with the healthcare professionals. Be sure to mention any chronic conditions, medications you are taking, allergies, and previous surgeries or procedures. This information will help the medical team make informed decisions about your care. A great tip is carrying a pocket card with this information to ensure transfer of information.

Ask Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your condition, treatment options, and what to expect during your visit. You have the right to understand your care fully. Some questions you might consider asking include:

  • What is the diagnosis, and how severe is the condition?
  • What are the treatment options, and what are the potential side effects or risks?
  • How long will I need to stay in the hospital, if at all?
  • What are the expected outcomes of the treatment?
  • Are there any alternatives to the proposed treatment?

Be Clear About Your Pain

Pain is a common concern for older adults, and it’s essential to communicate your pain levels accurately. Use a pain scale to describe the intensity of your pain, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. This can help the medical team determine the most appropriate pain management plan for you.

Understand Your Rights as a Patient

As a patient, you have rights in the healthcare system. It’s important to be aware of these rights and assert them when necessary. Some of these rights include:

  • The right to informed consent: You should be informed about any proposed treatments or procedures and have the right to accept or decline them.
  • The right to privacy: Your medical information should be kept confidential, and you can request that your medical records be shared only with those involved in your care.
  • The right to a second opinion: If you have concerns about your diagnosis or treatment plan, you have the right to seek a second opinion from another healthcare provider.

Stay Informed

Educate yourself about your medical condition and treatment options. While the emergency room is not the ideal place for extensive research, having a basic understanding of your condition can help you make more informed decisions about your care.

Keep a Record

Document your interactions with healthcare providers, including the names of the staff you speak with, the treatments or medications administered, and any changes in your condition. This record can be valuable for future reference and can help ensure continuity of care.

In conclusion, advocating for yourself in the emergency room is crucial, especially as an older adult. By being proactive, asking questions, and sharing your medical history, you can play an active role in your healthcare decisions. Remember that you have rights as a patient, and it’s essential to assert them when necessary. With the right approach, you can help ensure that you receive the best possible care during your emergency room visit. Don’t forget to request that your emergency room records be faxed to your primary care provider for seamless follow up.

You can use this information to help you establish a safety plan to avoid emergency room visits in the future. In the event that you do end up in the emergency room, being proactive in having a designated advocate, a pocket card with past medical history, and following the recommendations above will ensure that you are advocating for your health in the most effective way. 

Many ElderHealth members avoid unnecessary ER visits, attributing it to timely, responsive primary care. Be sure to communicate with your primary care doctor once a symptom or concern arises. You know your body best. Trust your instinct and seek medical attention when you suspect something is incorrect.

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