Resource Guide for Family Caregivers
Preparing for an emergency visit to the hospital

When caring for a person with a chronic illness or illnesses, it is wise to anticipate and plan ahead for a crisis or emergency. If you find yourself in the situation of needing to take the care recipient to the emergency room, there are some ways of preparing for the experience:

  • Have emergency phone numbers available in a convenient location for easy access. If there is a serious or life-threatening emergency, call 911 to secure an ambulance. If your area does not have 911, ensure you have the emergency phone number for an ambulance.
  • When calling emergency dispatch, have the following information ready for the dispatcher:
  • the city the patient lives in
  • the patient’s address with any identifiable landmarks
  • the patient’s telephone number
  • what the medical problem is
  • age of the patient
  • whether or not the patient is awake (conscious), breathing or bleeding
  • whether there is any dementia or other cognitive impairment

Some experiences

My dad was taken by ambulance to Emergency recently. I spent most of the night in Emergency where I discovered from dealing with the paramedics, the importance of having his medical information on me at all times. A small piece of paper in my wallet would have been sufficient. It should include Medical Care Card number; birth date; doctor's first and last name and phone number; any medical allergies; recent hospital visits and reason why; and all medications currently being used. I am going to put important information on all my loved ones in my wallet so that I never feel ill-prepared again in the future.

I recently gathered up all the necessary information from my husband, my parents, and myself and placed it all in my wallet. A few days later I received an urgent call that my mother had fallen and needed help. Bottom line: we were in and out of the emergency very quickly.

My mother was unable to provide the necessary information but I was; the hospital staff was grateful.

What to take with you to the emergency department

If the patient is not able to speak for him or herself at this time or if you are unable to drive to the hospital yourself, it is advisable that you ride in the ambulance, if possible. Otherwise, follow the ambulance in your car. In either case, have ready and take with you:

  • An up-to-date recorded home chart, if available (see Section 9), or written health history including any allergies, all medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins, etc. currently being taken by the care receiver
  • The name and contact information for the general practitioner as well as any specialists who are routinely part of the care recipient’s medical care. The Family Caregivers' Network Society provides a free Medical Information Record. This document is a convenient resource on which to record all important medical information for your care recipient.
  • Enduring Power of Attorney papers or Representation Agreement for Health Care decision-making
  • Your contact number for hospital staff
  • Patient’s care card number
  • Patient’s glasses, hearing and walking aids
  • Do not take jewellery or credit cards

If the person for whom you provide care is particularly frail or has a condition that is unstable necessitating frequent emergency admissions, you may want to have near the front door, or in another easy location, a small bag to take with you. The bag should contain toiletries and a small amount of cash. Be available to explain to ambulance and hospital staff any language, vision or hearing difficulties the patient may have.

Because of your unique knowledge of what is ―normal‖ for the care receiver, you can determine whether the presenting behaviour differs from what’s normal for him or her. For many people, anxiety, pain, the change in environment, new medications or physiological changes with illness or injury, can affect the person’s thinking and way of relating to others. One family caregiver commented in the case of an emergency admission:

“When my father was admitted to emergency he was in great pain. As he went by ambulance, and I arrived by car minutes later, we were separated and the staff would not let me be with him or talk with the doctor. My father generally presents well, but because of the pain he was vague and couldn’t remember what had happened. As a result, he was incorrectly diagnosed with constipation, given a heavy tranquilizer, and I was told to take him home. Later he was re- hospitalized with the same problem and almost died that time because of other complications.”

Given the many different circumstances around hospitalization, there are times when even the clearest and most articulate people become confused, intimidated, anxious or disoriented. As a family member, you can observe whether this is occurring and let health care providers know if  this is normal behaviour for the patient. You will also be a stabilizing influence in reassuring the care recipient while in the unfamiliar setting of the hospital.