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Emergency Room Tips: Plan Ahead for Your Visit to an Emergency Room

Some advance planning can make your emergency room visit safer and less costly


Doctor talking to patient in office
Cultura/Jason Butcher/Riser/Getty Images
You hope an illness or injury never sends you to a hospital emergency room (also known as an ER), but if you must go it’s best to be prepared.

I tested each of these emergency room tips when a family member had a health crisis, and I can vouch for them. These emergency room tips will help to make your trip to an ER as safe as possible--while reducing your out-of-pocket expenses.

Before You Go to an Emergency Room

  • It's important to keep your medical records in one location, so you can access them in an emergency. Create a folder that includes records of your doctor visits, medical tests, a list of your allergies, and a current list of the medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal dietary supplements. Grab this on the way to the emergency room, because if you are in pain or afraid when youo get to the emergency room it will be harder to answer even these simple questions. You can save money by eliminating unnecessary testing if you have the records with you.
  • Before a medical emergency arises and you need to visit an emergency room, call your health insurance company to find out which hospital emergency rooms are covered under your plan, and keep list with the names, addresses and phone numbers.

    Most people who go to an emergency room do not use an ambulance (as many as 80 percent, according to some reports), so if you get to choose which emergency room you go to, pick the one recommended by your health insurance company because this will reduce your our-of-pocket costs.

  • Before you need an emergency room, call the emergency rooms at your local hospitals to find out if they are staffed by board-certified emergency room doctors. This will help to ensure that you are treated by a doctor that is experienced in emergency room procedures.
  • To find out how well your local hospital emergency rooms provide the types of critical care that often affect older adults, see How Well Does Your Hospital Provide Critical Care?

Emergency Room Visit: What to Bring with You

  • Don't forget the folder you created that includes all of your medical information (see above)
  • Bring paper and a pen to document the treatment you receive in the emergency room (see "While You Wait..." below)
  • Bring comfort items to the emergency room. Bottled water, hand sanitizer, tissues, and cash for vending machines or the pay phone (most hospitals ban the use of cell phones).

    I recommend that you bring something to read when you go to an emergency room. It will help the time pass and may relieve some anxiety by taking your mind off your surroundings.

While You Wait in the Emergency Room (and chances are you will)

  • Document everything that happens to you in the emergency room. Keep a detailed log of every treatment you receive, the name of the person providing that treatment, any medications given, and the time you received each service.

    This information will be useful if there are billing or treatment errors related to your emergency room visit.

  • Get the business card (or ask for a phone number) for every doctor you see in the emergency room, in case your insurance company requires it, or if you have question later.
  • If you are not able to keep this log during your emergency room visit, ask a family member or friend to help you.

  • Alert your insurance company that you are in an emergency room.
  • Ask to see the case worker on duty in the emergency room or the hospital. Many people don’t know that hospitals offer case management services. A case worker can be very helpful and reassuring during admittance or transfer to another hospital, or when you’re being discharged.

Avoid Additional Illness at the Emergency Room

  • Refer to the list of allergies you brought with you to the emergency room, and remind everyone who treats you.

    When you are about to receive a new service, have that person confirm your name and your diagnosis to avoid being given the wrong treatment or medication.

  • Make sure anyone who touches you is wearing clean gloves or has washed their hands.

Before You Leave the Emergency Room

  • Make sure that you are given clear discharge instructions when you leave the emergency room or hospital, read them immediately, and ask questions.
  • Avoid buying prescriptions or medical supplies (including crutches, canes, and bandages) from the hospital. To save money, get a written prescription and purchase medication and medical supplies from your pharmacy, medical supply company, or online if you know and trust the vendor.
  • Ask for a copy of your emergency room report, and ask to have an itemized copy of your medical services and charges mailed to you. Don’t assume they will be sent to your primary doctor.

When You Get the Bill for Emergency Room Services

  • Check the bill against the log you created while you were at the emergency room. Make sure you are not charged for services or medication you didn’t receive.
  • If there is an error on your emergency room bill, write to your insurance company and include a copy of record you made of the services you received.
  • If your health insurance company refuses to pay for emergency room services or medication you received, don’t be afraid to file a claim. People make mistakes, and many claims are paid when people take the time to question a decision by the insurance company.

Note: Need help managing medical expenses? Medical Expense Manager software from Quicken Medical gets great reviews. It will help you track medical expenses, cross reference medical bills with your health plan, and create dispute letters.

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