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    Determining if you, or someone you love, needs emergency medical care can be a highly emotional experience and can lead to lots of questions. What if I don’t have health insurance? Should I call an ambulance? Why is that person being seen before me? Dr. Gregory Wallis, Emergency Medicine Physician at Pullman Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, sets the record straight by debunking some common misconceptions about receiving emergency medical care.


    Myth: It’s better to drive yourself to the Emergency Department than to call an ambulance

    If you’re having a medical emergency, please don’t get behind the wheel of a car. “We have a highly skilled group of emergency response providers here in the area, if you are in doubt of your ability to transport yourself it is recommended to call them,” says Dr. Wallis.


    In some cases, it’s recommended that you call 911, such as if you are experiencing stroke or heart attack symptoms. Arriving at the Emergency Department by ambulance means that the Emergency Department is aware of your condition coming in and your current vital signs and, in some cases, can start preparing for treatment. When EMS crews call in that they have a stroke patient on the way, a Code Stroke is called at Pullman Regional Hospital; this means a team assembles, prepares a room for the patient, clears the CT scanner for immediate imaging, alerts LifeFlight for possible transfer needs, and begins preparing lab and pharmacy orders. 


    Myth: The Emergency Department is first come, first serve

    In the Emergency Department, highly-trained nurses triage and prioritize patients based on the severity of symptoms and immediate need for evaluation. Triaging is not determined by when you check in, when you arrive, or how long you’ve been waiting but rather by the assessment and urgency of care needed. An example of this would be if you arrived at the Emergency Department with an ankle sprain, but someone else arrived after you with stroke symptoms, the person with stroke symptoms would be seen first because of the time-sensitive nature of a stroke.


    Dr. Wallis adds that, “we do our best to get patients to a room as soon as possible for physician evaluation.” At Pullman Regional Hospital, that typically means within 5 minutes.


    Myth: Emergency Department visits are short

    In short, no. “The length of stay in the emergency department is highly variable as there are many factors that play into this such as the tests, imaging, specialty consults, etc.” notes Dr. Wallis. 


    During an emergency department visit, oftentimes laboratory testing or imaging is ordered to help the healthcare providers understand where an issue stems from and what’s going on. Receiving laboratory results and imaging interpretation are done by different hospital departments and can take some time, which can contribute to the overall length of a visit. “We always want to send people home with results or next steps,” says Dr. Wallis. “It doesn’t do anyone any good to get a test or imaging ordered then send the patient home without those results- that would likely just result in them having to return back to our care once those results are available.” Another aspect of emergency department visits is the coordination of care. Emergency Medicine Physicians often connect with a patient’s primary care provider to loop them into what’s going on, obtain any additional information that could be helpful for next steps, and ensure any follow-ups get scheduled. Care coordination can also look like facilitating handoffs to specialists or calling for consults, such as emergency surgical consults. 


    At Pullman Regional Hospital, the average Emergency Department visit is 109 minutes long.


    Myth: The Emergency Department only treats patients who have health insurance

    Federal law requires all emergency departments to provide treatment, regardless of a patient’s insurance status or ability to pay. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) mandates that all individuals in need of emergency care must be stabilized and treated before any consideration of insurance coverage or payment.


    Delaying care because of financial concerns can lead to worsened conditions and potentially result in higher medical costs in the long run. If you believe you are having a medical emergency, regardless of your insurance status or ability to pay, going to your closest emergency department is the smart move.


    Myth: It’s okay to eat and/or drink while waiting to be seen in the Emergency Department

    It’s best to refrain from eating and/or drinking anything while waiting to be seen in the Emergency Department (including in the waiting room). Dr. Wallis says that “if you truly have an emergent condition, eating and/or drinking while waiting could cause a delay in your care.”


    You may be asked to recall the last time you ate/drank something, so noting your last meal and drink prior to heading to the hospital is helpful.


    Myth: Emergency care is on-demand and you can request what you want done

    Unlike a restaurant where you are provided a menu and allowed to order whatever you’d like, an Emergency Department does not operate the same way. You may have an idea of what kind of care you’ll be receiving (such as if you have a deep cut, you may already know you need stitches), but Certified Emergency Medicine Physicians will provide a thorough evaluation, ordering any imaging or laboratory tests, and come to a care plan through their advanced medical training.


    “Sharing your thoughts and concerns is appropriate, however we train for many years to decide what testing or imaging is appropriate,” says Dr. Wallis.


    Myth: You should not take any medication before coming to the Emergency Department

    Emergency Medicine physicians see it all the time- parents bring their child into the Emergency Department with a high fever but don’t give the child any fever-reducing medication (such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin) because they want to show the doctor the high fever.


    Dr. Wallis wishes patients would treat their symptoms appropriately at home- there’s no need to ‘prove’ the symptoms upon arrival to the Emergency Department. Patients will still receive a full assessment, regardless of whether they are displaying the reported symptoms or not, so why prolong discomfort? “We appreciate when patients have attempted to take an active role in their own care. If you have a fever, measure your fever with a thermometer and take appropriate medication. If you have pain, take appropriate medication to attempt improvement,” advises Dr. Wallis. 


    It is important to note what medications you have taken and the last time you took them so the Emergency Department team can assess and administer additional medications or treatments based on what is already in a patient’s system.


    The Pullman Regional Hospital Emergency Department is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 or head to your closest hospital.

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