February 23, 2018

Tips to help you prepare for emergencies

Supplies from a first aid kid placed on a table

When you think about preparing for emergencies, many people may think all they need to do is head to the Emergency Department or call 911. And depending on the situation, that’s often true. But there are also some basic steps that you can take to help ensure you get the proper care when you need it.

Dr. Benjamin Schnapp, UW Health emergency department physician, offers tips to help prepare for the unexpected.

Six tips to help you always be prepared

1. Keep an up-to-date first aid kit in your house. “A clean bandage, gloves or a splint can go a long way toward fixing up an otherwise messy situation,” Schnapp said. And he adds, don’t worry about putting together exactly the right mix of supplies - pre-packed kits with everything you need are sold in stores or online – pick up one that has more than just a couple band-aids in it (and tip No. 2 will help you know how best to use what is in the kit).

2. Take a First Aid or CPR class. “You never know when these very practical skills might be needed and these courses can make you feel more confident in dealing with an emergency if one does occur at home,” he says. To find a local class, visit RedCross.org for general first aid classes, or the American Heart Association website at heart.org to see the CPR offerings in your area.

3. Use your doctor's triage phone line. Doctor’s office, urgent care, emergency room – it can be hard to figure out the best place to get care for your symptoms. Most clinics have a number you can call when you’re concerned about your health – including a nurse triage line. For UW Health clinics, patients can call the main clinic number. After hours, there is a phone message that will direct you on what to do. “When you’re not sure, asking for guidance can save you time and money,” Schnapp said. “A 20-year-old with chest pain could likely be seen in an urgent care, but a 60-year-old with chest pain is better skipping the urgent care and going right to the emergency room.”

4. Try a little medicine (or another over-the-counter remedy). “Many times, we hear that patients were afraid that trying medication at home will ‘mask the symptoms’ before they seek treatment. But, this is a myth,” said Schnapp, adding that simple remedies are almost always the first thing doctors will try when a patient arrives for care. He notes that unless you’ve been told by your doctor that you shouldn’t take over-the-counter treatments because of your health conditions, it’s perfectly reasonable to take something like acetaminophen at home at home – but always be sure to follow the directions and dosage.

5. Keep an updated list of your medical problems, medications and allergies. “When I ask about patients’ medical problems, I worry when I hear ‘Oh, just check the computer,’ since records are constantly changing and up to date information can make a big difference in making sure you get the right treatment,” he says. It can also help in situations where you may not be able to think clearly or recall recent changes. Keep the list in an accessible place so if a family member or friend assists you, they can find and bring the list to the visit. Here is a form you can print and use: In Case of Emergency (pdf)

6. Bring a trusted advocate with you. When you’re having a medical emergency, you might not be able to remember everything that took place – from medications they gave, tests they ran or any findings from those tests. A second person can help ask questions on your behalf and make sense of everything taking place. “Another thing to consider is an 'In Case of Emergency' (ICE) entry in your phone,” Schnapp said. “It can be very helpful if we need to reach someone for you.”