Thrive by IU Health

October 30, 2019

Know What Constitutes an Emergency

IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Know What Constitutes an Emergency

One minute you’re enjoying an evening walk as gold and red leaves slowly fall to the ground. The next thing you know, there’s a shooting pain going down your arm and you’re nauseated. Both are common signs of a heart attack.

What are your options? Drive to the hospital, get someone else to drive you there, or call 911 for a transport. Which should you choose?

Get a ride

Whether it’s a heart attack or another medical condition you are experiencing, emergency medicine provider Andrew Watters, MD, has some suggestions.

“If you don't feel critically ill or injured, but driving is not a safe choice, get someone to drive you instead,” Watters said.

Medical issues that impede driving include:

  • Dizziness
  • Severe pain that would distract you from driving (in labor, kidney stones, severe migraine, etc.)
  • Injuries that limit your ability to drive safely

“I’ve had patients pass out while driving, get dizzy or be unable to operate the vehicle safely,” said Watters. “All of these situations put not only you, but also innocent bystanders, at risk.”

Calling 911

“Call an ambulance if someone looks critically ill,” said Watters. “First responder medical crews are trained professionals. They can start treatment even prior to arriving at the emergency department, and in certain situations may discuss the safety of driving yourself in versus taking the ambulance.”

Some issues that compel a call to 911 include trouble breathing, severe chest pain, passing out, seizures and severe injuries. But there are people who won’t call 911 even when they should. Denial is one reason listed by Watters.

“A lot of people don't want to believe they are ill, don't want to trouble or frighten anyone else and don't want to be a burden,” said Watters. “They may minimize their symptoms or not say anything at all.”

Cost is another major reason people may not call 911, but an ambulance can be the difference between getting timely care and lifelong health issues or even death.

“While I cannot fix the cost challenges, I can attest that insurance rarely denies EMS payments, and that hospitals and EMS systems are willing to work with uninsured patients on payments,” said Watters.

In the Emergency Department

“If you have to go to the emergency department, and I hope you don't, just know that we consider it a privilege to care for you,” said Watters.

There may be a wait to see a provider in the emergency department due to a number of factors including other patients having more time-sensitive cases. But it can be worsened due to people with concerns that should be handled by a primary care provider. While these issues are important for your health, they can delay care for patients who need more immediate help.

“Ultimately, the goal of emergency care is to assess for life- or limb-threatening illness,” said Watters. “If you have a concern for something that could legitimately be an immediate risk to you or your loved one, you should come to an emergency department.”