A trip to the hospital emergency room can be a frightening and stressful experience and is anything but routine for you and your family. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans visit a hospital emergency room each year. Emergency physicians and staff save lives every day and are an integral part of our nation’s health care system. Even though emergencies are unexpected, taking the time to prepare for one can put you more at ease when they arise. For Veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care or their caregivers, being prepared means knowing what emergency care benefits are available and how to access them.
Emergency Care for Veterans
Veterans enrolled in VA Health Care should go to the nearest emergency department when experiencing a medical emergency. Ask the emergency care provider to contact VA’s Centralized Emergency Care Reporting Center within 72 hours of the start of your treatment, by using the portal or by calling 844-724-7842. Even if the notification to VA did not occur within 72 hours, your emergency treatment may still be eligible for VA reimbursement.
Emergency Care or Urgent Care — Knowing Which to Choose
Emergency departments and urgent care facilities specialize in different levels of care. Urgent care typically treats minor injuries and illnesses that are not life-threatening, such as fever, nausea, rashes, sprained muscles, minor bone fractures and ear infections. Urgent care facilities are a convenient option during evenings and weekends or at other times when a physician’s office is unable to provide an appointment. VA offers urgent care services to eligible Veterans at VA medical facilities or in‑network urgent care clinics closer to home.
It’s important to remember that urgent care centers are not a substitute for emergency care. They don’t have the same equipment or trained staff that emergency departments have. If you go to an urgent care facility with a life-threatening condition, they will likely call 9-1-1 and have you transported to a hospital emergency department.
Hospital emergency departments are prepared for every medical emergency. Most are staffed by providers with specialized training and board certification in emergency medicine. Although emergency departments offer the same care as urgent care facilities, you may have a long wait to receive care if your illness or injury is not life-threatening because patients with the most severe conditions are treated first. Also, be aware that emergency room care is usually more expensive than urgent care.
Even though emergencies are unexpected, taking time to prepare for one can put you more at ease when they arise.
Knowing When to Go
Do not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention for yourself or a loved one if a life-threatening illness or injury occurs. Either call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.
Some reasons to seek emergency care include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain, trouble breathing, clammy skin
- Facial drooping, slurred speech or weakness in an arm or leg
- Major broken bones
- Head trauma
- Severe shortness of breath
- Allergic reactions
- Bleeding that does not stop after five minutes
- Severe reaction to insect bites
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Persistent vomiting
- Suicidal or homicidal feelings
Your Emergency Room Checklist
Being prepared can take some of the stress out of an emergency room visit. To help make a trip to the emergency room go as smoothly as possible:
- Know where the nearest hospital with an emergency department is located
- Keep important information handy, such as an advance directive and a list of medications
- Add in-case-of-emergency entries to your cellphone address book
- Wear medical jewelry if you have a chronic medical condition or are allergic to any medications
- Plan transportation for a life-threatening emergency; call 9-1-1, don’t drive yourself
Many of us or a loved one will experience a medical emergency in our lifetime. The good news is that in most communities, a nearby emergency department staffed with specially trained caregivers is available 24 hours a day, ready to administer the care you need to get you back on track.