Confirmed cases of the coronavirus are exploding worldwide, and hospitals predict that capacity is going to be an issue in the days, weeks, and possibly even months to come. If you do need medical care, being able to navigate your way around a medical center and getting prompt treatment is of the utmost importance. So, we spoke to the nation’s top medical experts in order to get their tips on how to navigate the hospital as quickly and efficiently as possible. Read on to find out how.
If you’re just “kind of sick” and curious if you should be quarantined, just stay home, encourages Brandon Lawrence, MD, a Phoenix, Arizona board certified emergency medicine physician. Not only will you be putting the health of other potentially more at-risk individuals on the line, but you will probably be waiting for quite some time, as they will be the priority. “Cardiovascular, breathing issues and severe traumas are fast tracked in,” explains Inna Chern, DDS. “COVID-19-related illnesses are also fast tracked and isolated.” The remaining illnesses are treated as soon as there is available space. “The take home point is ‘now is not the time to go to the hospital with an ankle twist or sprain,” she says.
In order to avoid wasting any time, check with your insurance carrier and make sure your plan is accepted at the hospital before you arrive.
It’s never a bad idea to call the ER ahead of time—especially if you are coming in for a real emergency. “For women in labor, this may be a great idea so as not to be left waiting for a bed around ailing COVID patients,” points out Dr. Chern.
Do you have a doctor who knows you? “Many hospitals have set up group practice locations in communities and I would research where they are located and what is available,” urges Sheryl Buchholtz Rosenfield, RNBC in geriatrics, who served as a first responder volunteer in triage for September 11th. “Reach out to them now and find out about services, schedules and ask if you may ‘register’ with them now and not in a more urgent situation.”
Again, the more prepared you are, the faster you will be seen. “Make sure you have your medical insurance, health history, allergies and other information available now so you do not panic if you may need it,” suggests Rosenfield.
Having a list of the closest hospitals with their address and contact numbers will help in the case of an emergency, says Rosenfield. “Keep the information in a convenient place,” she encourages.
James Cobb, RN, MSN, emergency department nurse and former department director, suggests trying to use the nurse call line associated with your insurance plan. “They’re very often useful,” he explains. You can ask them whether they think you need to be seen in person or they may simply just offer advice on which hospitals to go to.
When you go to triage at an emergency department, have your story straight, instructs Cobb. “Speak clearly, slowly and distinctly. Eliminate any detail that’s frivolous. Be cooperative. Don’t ask too many questions,” he instructs. “These steps are important to help the triage nurse understand what medical need you have and where you would be best served.” Getting triaged correctly can save you hours and hours, because, if you end up getting admitted, it can help you get precisely what medical care you need.
It can be tempting to tell a little white lie to get in to see a doctor sooner, but Cobb warns against dishonesty. “Never lie about anything. Never exaggerate. Never tell the triage nurse you have pain you don’t have because you think it will get you to the back faster,” he instructs. This especially goes for chest pain. “Don’t threaten to sue the hospital if you’re not seen on a timely basis. Be clear. Be factual. Don’t be dramatic and don’t think of triage as a social visit. The triage nurse isn’t being rude. They’re trying to get to all of the patients they can as quickly as they can.”
It can be tempting to bring your loved ones with you to the hospital, but if you want to make your visit as efficient as possible, leave them at home. Also, by doing so you will be protecting them as well as others from potential spread.
Driving yourself to the hospital may seem easy, but parking at major health care centers can often be complicated as well as expensive. Not only will it add time to your visit, but you could save a lot of money as waiting times are going to be longer than usual.
Call your hospital and try and find out when the busiest times are. While many hospitals can’t tell you exactly how long the wait is, they might be able to give you some insight on the days of the week and times of the day their waiting rooms are the fullest. However, if it is a true emergency you should make your way there as soon as possible no matter what.
If you are in dire need of medical attention, make that clear. “If you have severe shortness of breath or a change in your level of consciousness, then you are sick enough to require emergency care and should go without delay,” urges Jeremy Gabrysch, MD, CEO & Founder of Remedy, an urgent care service. Emergency rooms prioritize care with who needs it the most. If that is you, let someone know immediately.
Dr. Gabrysch also suggests seeking care at a hospital-based emergency room, as you may require admission to the hospital. “Avoid free-standing emergency rooms since if you need to be admitted, you would have to be transferred,” he points out.
New York City based plastic surgeon Gary Linkov, MD, suggests doing your homework. “Most hospitals have useful maps on their websites that show you everything from parking to where specific departments can be found and how to get there,” he explains. “Print out the relevant information and bring it in with you.”
Dr. Lawrence explains that certain hospitals are generally busier than others. For example, large level 1 trauma centers as well as academic centers are usually packed, while smaller community ERs tend to be less busy. Dr. Linkov adds that some are also much more confusing to navigate than others. “As a general rule, the bigger the hospital the more difficult it will be to navigate,” he points out. ” If speed and ease of finding something are priorities, it may make more sense to go to a smaller, community hospital.”
Choose your hospital wisely, urges Brittany Brinley, DO, a Beverly Hills-based physician and entrepreneur board-certified in Internal Medicine. “Try to find a hospital that is not in a city center as long as it is not too far of a drive,” she explains. Why? City hospitals tend to be more crowded than those in the suburbs. Also, if there are a lot of coronavirus cases in your area, maybe thinking about driving a few towns over.
Knowing people can come in handy when it comes to getting prompt medical treatment. If you aren’t sure if you know anyone who works at your local medical center, Dr. Linkov suggests asking your Facebook friends. “There may be people you find that either work at your hospital of choice or have friends or family that do and can help you navigate it faster,” he says.
Dr. Brinley encourages people to speak with their primary physician before heading to the hospital. “They may be able to directly admit you to the hospital if necessary so that you can bypass the ER,” she explains.
Don’t attempt to find your way around a hospital. Make sure to make the concierge your first stop. In addition to guiding you in the right direction, if you are suffering from any severe symptoms they can point you in the right direction and get you there as soon as possible.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.