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How to be the perfect EMS patient in 7 easy steps

Show us a little respect and we’ll do the same for you


Photo/City of Louisville

By Sean Eddy

So you’ve decided to call 911 and summon help from your friendly neighborhood ambulance service. Seems simple, right?

You call 911, we show up, you tell us what’s wrong, we provide initial treatment and begin transport to the closest, most appropriate hospital. It’s all fairly routine, but you‘re an overachiever, so you want to make a lasting impression on your ambulance crew. You want to make their job as smooth and easy and possible. The only problem is, you’re not exactly sure how to do that.

Please, Sean. Tell me how to be the perfect patient!

Sit back, young grasshopper and pull out something to write with. Sean is about to take you back to school.

1. Be reasonable about when you actually call an ambulance.

This can be a tough one, because it is extremely subjective and the definition changes with each EMS provider, but bear with me here. There are two things to consider when deciding whether or not to call 911: The severity of your illness or injury and the time you call. Keep in mind that the later at night that you call, the higher the “acceptable reasons for calling 911” bar is raised. By 3 a.m., you better have amputated a limb AND not had someone available to drive you the hospital.

Of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll get a crew that looks at all calls the same and doesn’t attempt to determine what’s worthy of ambulance transport. However, I wouldn’t be throwing my money down on that bet at 2 a.m.

2. Don’t invite your pushy friends or relatives along for the ride.

I’m not referring to friends or family that are involved or informed in your care, because we always encourage family members to be involved. What I’m talking about is your brother’s, best-friend’s, ex-girlfriend’s, former roommate who used to be a CNA and is now a self-proclaimed honorary RN and emergency medicine expert. You know who I’m talking about, and they aren’t going to help your cause. They’ll only delay your care because we’ll end up spending more time dealing with them than we will focusing on your needs.

3. Provide the dispatcher with accurate information.

We aim to please, but we can’t do that if we don’t where we’re going or what we’re getting into. Please answer all of the dispatcher’s questions accurately and honestly.

4. Don’t make it hard for us to get to you.

A well-marked address is a good start. Also, leaving a clear and easy path to move our gurney is a huge plus. If you really want to leave a lasting impression, position yourself in the front room in a spot where we can bring our gurney right up next to you. We will absolutely love you forever for this.

5. Have your information handy.

Please have your ID, insurance cards, medication lists, etc. all ready to go when we arrive. This not only makes our job easier, but the hospital staff will also love you for it.

6. Be reasonable when requesting a hospital.

We really do want to get you the most appropriate care for your illness or injury. That said, insisting that we drive you across two state lines and carry you in the snow, uphill both ways, because you believed the lie your doctor told you about meeting you at the ER to care for your three-day cough might alter our positive outlook on the experience.

It should also be noted that the threshold for “acceptable transport distance” also shrinks every hour on the hour after the sun goes down.

7. Don’t make liars out of us at the hospital.

Be consistent with your story. Don’t adamantly deny that you have chest pain with us, then tell the nurses that your chest feels like it was hit by a freight train. Chances are, we’ve dealt with a lot during this shift, and the last thing we need is to get “the look” from the triage nurse when they notice that we haven‘t run an ECG on you.

Bonus - Just be respectful.

All joking aside, basic courtesy and understanding go a long way when dealing with health care professionals. Making unreasonable demands, dishing out insults or questioning our intelligence doesn‘t help your situation. Ask questions, be informed, and be honest. If something hurts or bothers you, tell us. It’s our job to work with sick and uncomfortable people. Show us a little respect and we’ll do the same for you.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.