No one wants to think that they — or their loved ones — may need a crisis management plan for a medical emergency. The fact is, having one in place in case an accident occurs, or some unforeseen (or foreseen) event necessitates medical action, will be extremely helpful not only for the patient but for their family as well. This article will guide you in the development of a crisis management plan so that things can be done more quickly, efficiently, and effectively when time is of the essence.

Why Would You Need a Medical Crisis Plan?

Consider this example. An elderly woman appears physically unwell and incoherent on the street and a bystander calls 9-1-1, so she is brought to the hospital for treatment. She suffers from dementia and doesn’t remember her name or address. Hospital personnel find a passport providing her name and address, but nothing else. At this point, they don’t know if she has any medical conditions or if she is taking any medication. She starts to panic because she doesn’t know what is happening and is surrounded by strangers. She refuses to follow instructions and is uncooperative. A cursory look at her cell phone (assuming it is unlocked) contacts only shows names of various people — staff may have to go down the list until they find someone who is a family or close friend. 

Now let’s see what might have happened with a medical plan. The elderly woman is brought to the hospital. When personnel look at her phone contacts, they see an entry like “BRAD (SON)” or “PHYLLIS (EMERGENCY CONTACT),” so they know who to call right away. In her purse is a laminated cue card titled “MEDICATIONS I’M ON,” which lists a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug and an analgesic used for pain prevention, as well as dosage information. It also says “NO MEDICINE ALLERGIES.” Doctors are able to make a proper diagnosis quickly and administer medication they know has no interactions with her current medicine. Phyllis shows up and provides contact information for the woman’s doctors and tells them the woman goes by “KAT,” not “KATHERINE.” Medical personnel address her as Kat so she calms down and follows the instructions she is given.

Elements of a Medical Crisis Plan

What specifically needs to go into someone’s crisis plan will depend on their circumstances (medical conditions, contacts, and triggers, for example), but there are some important elements.

Medical Information

This can include (or even repeat) emergency contacts and how to reach them, doctors’ (including psychiatrist if applicable) contact information, and information about the patient’s health insurance (policy number and provider, for example). It can also include important medication information, such as any current diagnoses, medicines, dosages, allergies to medication, recent medical procedures and hospitalizations, and anything else that could be relevant and helpful to medical staff. In the example above, it was important for the doctors and nurses to address the patient as “Kat.” There can be notes about particular language to use or the best strategies to use during a mental health crisis. 

Ideally, the emergency contact(s) as well as the patient should have this information readily available in case the patient loses it during the crisis. Other measures, such as reprogramming phone contacts so that emergency contacts are easily discernible, can also be taken.

What to Do in an Emergency — and Who Does What

Everyone who may be involved if a medical emergency arises should have clear roles and checklists of what they need to do in various situations. The mechanisms should already be in place to allow people to do their roles. For example, someone should be designated to make medical decisions — like in the case of a “Do No Resuscitate” order — and to effect this, the parties should have already executed the appropriate Power of Attorney or Psychiatric Advance Directive. Other people may be in charge of contacting relatives, collecting the patient’s medications, or packing an overnight bag. If an end-of-life decision needs to be made, that needs to be delineated.

It is also helpful to figure out what should be done after the crisis — for example, setting up a schedule for wellness checks, making medical appointments, and dealing with the medical bills/insurance. Sometimes, you won’t know specifics until the crisis happens. If Grandpa fell and, as a result, is less mobile, his family or caretakers may have to make adjustments to his residence — such as ensuring that all pathways are clear and as wide as possible, or installing handrails and other equipment.

Another good idea is to set out what may happen preceding a medical emergency. If it is a mental health issue, everyone involved should know what triggers there may be. If the patient has exhibited certain symptoms or behaviors before past psychotic episodes, as an example, they and their loved ones can make a list and know to take immediate action if any of those things occur. Everyone should also be aware of what symptoms or behaviors require actions like reassurance and bringing the patient home or to family, and what necessitates calling 9-1-1 or seeking immediate medical attention.

A Patient Advocate or Crisis Planner Can Help

It’s not always easy to know what to do or what kinds of medical emergencies to plan for. Patient advocates and crisis planners have knowledge and experience with medical crisis management and can help you identify different scenarios, the best responses/actions, and if you need to do anything beforehand — such as filling out forms or executing the appropriate legal document. For help with any medical crisis management plans in Charlotte, we are happy to assist. Contact us — and have the peace of mind knowing that if a medical emergency arises, you, your loved one, or family members will know what to do.