Scenario: You get a call that a loved one is headed to the emergency room. You are the closest family member. What should you do? What should you expect?

First things First


    • If your loved one is being transported via ambulance, you should be able to find out from the Emergency Medical Technician/Paramedic if it is a life threatening situation.
      • Yes – Ambulance should go to nearest emergency room
      • No – You may be asked where you want your loved one to go. Here are a few things to consider;
        • For a trauma, a trauma center is the best choice
        • If it is not, a facility with a geriatric ER may be a good choice for an older adult particularly if they have one or more chronic conditions.
        • It is good to educate yourself on local facilities and any disease specific certifications they hold through The Joint Commission. Areas of particular importance for older adults are stroke, orthopedics and cardiac disease.


What to expect for your loved one in medical crisis


    • Recognize that you may not be the best person to handle an emergency health situation. THIS IS OK! Contact another family member or friend that may be able to assist in this situation.
    • The medical team will be looking for a primary family member or loved one to communicate with and help make decisions.
      • If there is a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA), refer to it to establish a spokesperson in the event your loved one is incapacitated.
      • If there is no designated HCPOA, establish with family and loved ones who will be primary in communicating decision making with the medical team.
      • An emergency room is not first come first served. Patients are triaged and those with the most life threatening or time sensitive situations will be treated first.
      • Emergency departments and hospitals are busy places with many people in various departments working on many patients at one time.


  • You and your loved one will encounter, physicians, nurses, technicians, dieticians, pharmacists, receptionists, janitorial services, volunteers and many others. Never assume an individual’s role by what they are wearing!  All staff should all have a name badge that identifies who they are what their role is. If you cannot see it ask for it.


    • There will be waiting involved. Whether it is for a physician to exam, a test to be performed, a result to be read or equipment to be applied.
    • The goal of the ER staff is to assess the level of urgency and treat life threatening illnesses or injuries and coordinate either admission to the hospital or discharge home.


What to do to help your loved one in medical crisis


    • Gather as much information about your loved one as possible for the staff providing care;
      • Trace the events of the last 24 hours or try to find someone who may know what occurred over the past day or two
      • ER staff may want to know; last meal eaten, recent onset of new symptoms, recent increase or decrease in complaints of on-going symptoms, changes in medications, and changes in behavior or thought processing
      • Living Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Allergies, Current medications, Health Insurance Information
  • Communication is critical!


        • This can be a stressful and emotional experience. Remaining calm is key to good communication with the medical team. If you find this is not something you can do, it is OK! Contact another family member or friend that may be able to assist you
        • Identify a friend or family member who can support you and listen to what is being asked and communicated with the staff. One or two people are sufficient. Do NOT bring all your family members. It can be disruptive to your loved one when they need calm and distracting for hospital staff providing care.
        • Asking questions and requesting information lets the staff know that you are engaged and expecting to be kept informed of what is happening.
        • Engage with staff members who interact with your loved one. Ask staff who they are, what their role is, what they are doing and why.  Make sure you understand what is happening. If you do not, ask for clarification. “Why was this x-ray ordered? What will it tell you?” “What is that pill you are giving mom? What is it for?” If you are uncomfortable, find a family member or friend who can be assertive and calm in this situation
        • Have a paper and pen to record questions and answers and jot down times of events and which physicians communicated what to you. This is a good job for your support person.


  • Do not assume that everyone that you come in contact with knows anything about your loved one. Quite the opposite. Assume that everyone you come in contact with knows nothing about your loved one! Over communicate and ask questions.


  • Leave children or other people who may be distracting at home or with a sitter. Your loved one needs your attention and focus. Keep in mind that hospitals are not healthy environments to hang out in!