Does the Emergency Room Need Emergency Help?

A story that appeared in the September 15, 2008 New York Times reports that E.R. patients often leave the E.R. confused about how to care for themselves after they are released. A Michigan study tracked 140 E.R. patients and their comprehension in terms of their diagnosis, their treatment in the E.R., their instructions for self-care once they got home from the E.R., and how to determine when and if they should go back to the E.R. or seek medical treatment. Self-care was the most confusing for the E.R. patients, with many unclear on which or how much medication to take, how to take care of wounds, and when to check in with their doctors or specialists. The problem with such confusion is the safety of the patient could be jeopardized.

Some of this confusion can be attributed to lack of communication in the E.R. Doctors and nurses are often so busy that they do not have enough time to fully treat a patient or to properly explain the medication situation to a patient. In addition, a patient in the E.R. might be agitated or frightened or worried, and thus their ability to comprehend medical details may be impaired.

Several solutions are suggested: the doctor can have the patient repeat medical instructions back to the doctor, thereby ensuring comprehension; hospitals can have a doctor and then a nurse explain the situation and treatment options to the patient, meaning the explanation would reach the patient twice; and hospitals can contact patients to follow up and make sure proper medical measures are being taken.

Have you or someone you know been a patient in the E.R.? What was the experience like, and did you feel you received proper treatment and adequate explanation regarding the diagnosis and treatment plan?