When to Use the Emergency Department…

 For Immediate Release – December 22, 2011

Smiths Falls, ON – To go to the Emergency Department or not is often a question we have when we’re feeling unwell at home. Our Hospital Emergency Departments are extremely busy and there may be a wait of several hours for patients who do not have a life-threatening condition.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whether your problem is serious or not. Here are some examples of when you should go to the Emergency Department or call 911.

  • When you are experiencing chest pains or tightness in the chest 
  • When you have severe pain 
  • When you have sudden, worsening or unexplained shortness of breath 
  • When a person is choking or having difficulty breathing 
  • When you think you may have fractured or broken a bone or have a wound that may need stitches. 
  • When you have sudden, severe headaches, vision problems, sudden weakness, trouble speaking, dizziness, numbness and/or tingling in the face, arm or leg; 
  • If your child has diarrhea and vomiting and will not eat or drink; 
  • When a baby under 6 months has a fever over 38.5 C or 101 F. 

If you are still unsure as to whether to go to an Emergency Department, first call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000, a toll-free telephone health advice line. Registered Nurses are there 24 hours a day to offer advice, after asking a battery of questions on your current health status. They will suggest you may be able to self-heal, can wait to make a doctor’s appointment, or advise going to an Emergency Department immediately. Call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000. As well, many physicians’ offices prefer their patients to contact them before going to an Emergency Department or walk-in clinic for after-hours care. Check with your physician to find out what after-hour services they can provide.

Unlike other services, when you arrive at the Emergency Department, you will not be seen on a first come, first served basis. A triage nurse will see you first to determine the acuity or seriousness of your illness. Triage is a method used by both nurses and ambulance paramedics to determine how life-threatening a patient’s condition is. How soon you are seen by a doctor will depend on how sick or how badly injured you are, not by time of arrival. The sickest patients are seen first. If your condition worsens while you are waiting, it’s important to let the triage nurse know. Patients with non-urgent conditions should be prepared to wait. Dr. Peter Roney, Chief of Staff said, “People often feel frustrated when they come to the Emergency Department because they aren’t aware that the most critical or seriously injured people must be treated first. In our busy departments, this can result in some people with minor conditions having to wait several hours to see a physician.”

How You Can Help!

  • You must bring your Ontario Health Card with you when you come to the Emergency department 
  • Bring a list of the all the medications that you take on a regular basis along with any other important information like allergies 
  • While you are waiting for treatment, please do not eat or drink without first checking with a nurse 
  • If you decide to leave before being seen by a doctor, please talk with a nurse.
  • To help reduce waiting room crowding, don’t bring along anyone who isn’t necessary. One family member or support person is preferred.
  • Be mindful that there is no obligation on the physician who works in the ED to renew any prescription and therefore there is no guarantee that prescriptions will be renewed.
  • Bring a book or hobby to help pass the time.
  • Remember that emergency doctors and staff are often supporting critically-ill or injured patients, including cardiac arrests and accident victims. You will be seen as soon as possible based on the severity of your condition, not the time you arrive.

It is important to note that while the Hospital does have a physician available for the emergency department the staffing of physicians are primarily community based physicians who operate clinic offices during the day. The emergency departments are very busy places. On an annual basis approximately 28,000 patients are treated at each site. People with non urgent health conditions should consider turning to other alternatives to relieve some of the pressure in the increasingly busy emergency departments

You can often avoid emergency department visits by simply being prepared during the holiday season and year round. Here is a checklist to consider:

  • Call your doctor’s office: Find out what their hours are and ask about any back-up coverage arrangements. 
  • Call your pharmacy – know their hours and find out where the nearest 24 hour pharmacy is located. 
  • Get a flu shot: Your family doctor can offer this service or refer you to the nearest clinic that does. 
  • Medications and Medical equipment: Make sure that everyone in your family has a sufficient supply of their medications on hand, both prescription and non-prescription. Don’t forget about needles, alcohol swabs, etc. Also check out inhalers, respirators, oxygen, and glucose testing machines and supplies. 
  • Update all emergency telephone numbers including the number for TeleHealth Ontario and post them in a visible place (ex. your refrigerator). 

By being prepared, patients can take a proactive approach to managing their own health care which could help them either avoid an emergency visit completely, or greatly improve their experience if they do need emergency care over the holidays.

On behalf of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital, its doctors, nurses, and support personnel, we appreciate your patience and understanding.

For more information:

Todd Stepanuik, President & CEO
Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital
613-283-2330 ext. 1130
Great War Memorial Site
33 Drummond Street West
Perth, ON K7H 2K1
Tel: (613) 267-1500
Smiths Falls Site
60 Cornelia Street West
Smiths Falls, ON K7A 2H9
Tel: (613) 283-2330

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