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Do you know when 911 is the right call?

Posted by Carolyn Harmer on Apr 2, 2015 4:10:00 PM

If your loved one needs medical care, it may not be necessary to call 911 — and pay thousands for an ambulance.Some health concerns require the kind of life-saving medical care and urgency that the 911 service is designed for, but others may not. When a loved one needs prompt medical care, consider these points. But if you’re ever in doubt, 911 emergency services are there to help you make the right choice for your loved one.

The consequences of dialing 911

Every medical-related 911 call gets a response from the fire department and an ambulance company. Ambulance response and transportation is expensive, costing thousands of dollars at a minimum, and the injured person is expected to pay that expense (which Medicare and private insurances may or may not help cover). Availability is another factor; each service area has a limited number of ambulances. If patients over-use 911 for medical transportation, then response times can lengthen and other people may not get the timely care they need.

Making a sound judgment call

If a medical concern emerges for your loved one, it can make good sense — financially and civilly — to stop and ask whether calling 911 is the right action for the situation. Some emergencies certainly warrant 911 assistance, but others might be handled without the use of an ambulance or trained emergency personnel.

Here are some questions to consider when determining whether calling 911 is the right course of action:

  • Is my loved one’s life in immediate danger?’ In life-or-death situations, never hesitate to call 911 immediately: these could include unresponsiveness, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding (blood pooling or spreading quickly across clothing), signs of sudden paralysis, unexplained severe headache, heavy chest pressure or pain, or sudden severe confusion. If the situation is not threatening to life or limb, there may be a more appropriate way to get the necessary treatment. Some symptoms or complications, like respiratory illnesses or minor wounds, can be treated in a physician’s office or urgent care facility rather than the emergency department.
  • ‘What would happen if I transported my loved one myself (or had someone else do it)?’ Injuries like falls, neck or back damage, or deep wounds can be made worse if the person is moved by someone other than trained emergency personnel — in this case, calling 911 is the best choice. However, broken fingers or lower leg bones, sprains and strains, or minor wounds are generally not worsened by self-transportation.
  • ‘How soon does my loved one need care — and what will be the fastest way to get it?’ If you do call 911, ask how long it will take for an ambulance to reach your loved one. In some instances, such as when the nearest hospital is very close, your loved one may be able to safely use another method of transportation. However, whereas an ambulance is equipped for performing some lifesaving medical procedures, a car is not. Each situation is unique, so always use your best judgment.

Finding the right response

One useful tool is to plan ahead for possible emergency responses. Imagine how your response might differ for various health concerns, as well as for various locations (home alone versus the community center or out visiting a friend).

If your loved one lives alone, or if no one in the household can drive, you might want to research alternate modes of transportation. This might be as simple as asking a close neighbor to help when needed. Or search for non-emergency medical transportation services in your loved one’s area; these providers offer safe and accessible transport at a fraction of the cost of an ambulance.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution. You can describe the situation to the 911 operator, who can help you determine what you should do. If your loved one can benefit from the speed and coordination of an emergency medical team response, you’ll be glad you did.

If you are concerned about the possibility of falls or injuries in the home, consider an option like Residential Home Health’s home safety assessment. Our experts check patients’ homes for hidden dangers and help find solutions for trouble areas. To determine whether you or your loved one might benefit from our care, call (866)902-WELL (9355) to discuss your specific situation with a Home Care Specialist today, or click here to take our Home Care Assessment.

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Topics: Aging In Place