On the other hand, doctors can't know all that you are experiencing, so you need to speak up and tell all. Communication is a two-way street. Both patient and doctor need to provide the free flow of information. Questions should include what medications you should resume at home and which new ones should you take, what symptoms should prompt a visit back to the ER, and when to follow up with your family doctor.
Repeat in your own words what is wrong and what your plan of care should be once you get home. Do not leave the ER until you fully understand what happened, what is wrong, and what your care should be. The University of Michigan study found that all too often patients thought they understood what happened when they in fact did not. Your best bet is to repeat back to the doctor exactly what you believe happened and how you should proceed when you get home. Be specific about your medication plan, special diet or exercise, and when to follow up with your family doctor.
Ask for a copy of important tests or results to share with your family doctor. Many emergency rooms automatically send a copy of the ER report to the family doctor but only if they are on the staff of the hospital. Even then, this report can get lost or take a few days to arrive. I was not on the staff of the hospital that cared for my patient and I had no information to help me treat the patient I described above who came to the ER weak and was found to have low potassium. A copy of the lab tests and findings in the ER would have helped me determine what dose of potassium to use, the status of her kidney function and which medications I could safely continue. The nuns now automatically make it a habit to ask for a copy of important reports before leaving the emergency room.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions and your own personal experiences with the emergency room.
Dr. Marie Savard is an ABC News medical contributor. To learn more about Savard's health management system, download free forms and a sample letter to your doctor, visit http://www.drsavard.com and click on "Learn how to take charge of your health."