Helping Patients Navigate the Emergency Department

Resus Review

Patients come to the department because the are hurt, suffering, confused, feeling ill, or scared. This is usually their first visit seeking emergency care, and can be overwhelmed by the system. One of the keys to providing patient centered care is inform them as much as possible about the what to expect and what is going on while they are in the emergency department.

Helping Patients Navigate the Emergency Department

Understanding the process comforts the patient that they are actively being cared for, and not forgotten. This can be done in many ways. It occurs during every personal interaction, at transitions of care, and periodically during the visit.

One way to augment this communication, is to providing written material to the patient with basic information. The letter below is a sample of what can be provided to an emergency department patient to help them understand the emergency department and what to expect.

To Patients and Visitors of Our Emergency Department

Visiting an emergency department is an unexpected and stressful experience. Our team in the Emergency Department are highly trained to provide the care you need no matter what the problem, on an unscheduled basis, without an appointment, irrespective of the ability to pay.

We want you to understand how you will be cared for during your visit.

Our Emergency Department offers 3 distinct services to appropriately meet your needs. These services are:

  • Urgent Care. As the name suggests, this area of the Emergency Department is designed to provide rapid care for non-life threatening illnesses and injuries. Theese services are available 7 days a week from 7 am to 10 pm.
  • Emergency Department. Equipment and services to treat stable, urgent and emergent illnesses and injuries are available 24 hours a day.
  • Stabilization Center. Capabilities include specialized emergency resuscitation, diagnostic, surgical and critical care services that are specifically organized for immediate response to provide care and treatment for patients with immediate life-threatening problems.


Your treatment begins at this point. In the Emergency Department, it is extremely important that the most critically ill and injured patients are seen first. This process is called “triage”. The triage nurse will:

  • Confirm the reason for your visit, your name and birth date.
  • Ask about any medications you are taking and any allergies you may have.
  • Obtain a brief medical history.
  • Take your vital signs: blood pressure, pulse, respiration and temperature.
  • Assess the urgency of your condition.
  • Some patients may have preliminary tests or x-rays done.
  • Basic treatments for pain, fever, shortness of breath may be started if indicated.
  • If your doctor referred you to the Emergency Department, the Triage Nurse will still have to determine the urgency of your condition. Even if your doctor has phoned ahead, you may have to wait if there are more urgent patients requiring treatment.

It is very important that you notify the triage nurse if your condition changes at any point while you are waiting.

Consult the triage nurse before eating or drinking as it may affect your treatment plan.

How long will I wait?

Waiting times depend on the seriousness of your condition and the condition of the other patients waiting for care. We take care of patients with the most serious problem first. Staff can only approximate waiting time, and this may change as additional patients arrive. Our promise is to speed your treatment as much as possible, and always keep you informed of the process.

Who will I see while in the Emergency Department

You will meet many people during your visit to the emergency department. These include:

  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Residents and medical students
  • Radiology Technicians
  • Lab Technicians
  • Healthcare Assistants
  • Paramedics
  • Security Officers
  • Clerks

Everyone who visits you should introduce themselves and clearly state their role in your care. A badge with this information should be prominently visible. If at anytime you are unclear who someone is or what their role is, please ask.


During the registration process, the clerk will ask you a number of demographic questions (address, phone number, emergency contacts) for your record and obtain a signature for consent for us to treat you. Also, you will be asked for insurance information if available.

All patients, regardless of ability to pay or insurance status are treated.

Emergency Department Treatment Area

Once you are taken into an exam room, you will be assigned a primary care nurse. He/she may initiate certain treatments based upon your condition, including drawing blood, placing an intravenous (IV) catheter, or checking your heart rate, blood pressure or oxygen level.

You may be initially seen by a resident or medical, who will obtain a detailed history and perform a physical exam. As needed, additional tests or treatments may be ordered at that time.

All of your care will directed by the the supervising emergency physician attending who will also examine you and discuss your problem with you.

Tests and Treatments

Tests and treatments assist the physician in determining the appropriate plan of care for you. Lab results typically take 1-2 hours, depending on the type of test.

X-rays may be ordered. Some radiology studies, such as CT scans, may require that you drink contrast in either juice or water. To ensure accurate results, you may be required to wait up to 4 hours.

Some patients will have cardiogram/EKG which will be shown to the ED physician within 10 minutes of its completion.

You will be informed throughout all stages of assessment and treatment.

After your results have been completed, we will develop a plan of care with you. This plan of care will be discussed with you in detail. We encourage you to ask questions regarding your care at any time. Some illnesses and injuries may require you to be admitted to the hospital or to follow-up with a physician in the office. If at any time you are concerned about treatment or delays, please ask your nurse or doctor.

Leaving the Emergency Department

You will be given instructions prior to leaving the Emergency Department. Items include:

  • Name of the physician or nurse practitioner who treated you.
  • List of any new medications or changes to previous medications.
  • Information on your condition.
  • Who, when, and where to follow up with.

If you do not understand any of the instructions, please ask us. If questions arise once you get home, please call the Emergency Department at (XXX) XXX-XXXX or follow-up with your primary care physician.

Admission to the Hospital

Some conditions and treatments may require you to be admitted to the hospital. While the hospital prepares a room for you, you will wait in the Emergency Department. The wait time will depend on the type of bed you need. While you are still in the emergency department, you will continue to be cared for by the staff. This includes any needed treatments, evaluations, and comfort.


Your privacy and confidentiality is a vital component of showing you respect. Your condition and medical information will only be available to those who need to know the information as part of your care.

We expect that patients, friends and family respect the privacy of others as well.


We understand and support the need for family and friends in the Emergency Department. At times, we must limit visitation in order to provide quality care in a private and safe environment. Patients may be limited to two visitors at the bedside. While visiting, please remain in the patient’s room.
Depending on current activities in the Emergency Department, it may not be appropriate for children to visit. Adult supervision of children is required at all times.


Your personal security is a basic expectation while you are in the emergency department. Our campus security officers and peace officers are a visible and dedicated to providing a safe place for you to receive care. Protecting patients does require verifying identities of visitors and obtaining passes.

We strongly recommend that all money and valuables be sent home with family or friends.

Escorts are available from the hospital to your vehicle.


Patients who are awaiting treatment should not eat or drink anything until cleared by the healthcare team, as it may worsen their condition or delay therapy.

Food is available for friends and family, in the cafeteria. It is located on the second floor. Any staff member will be happy to direct you. Vending machines are also available in the Emergency Department lobby for your convenience. The coffee shop is located just off the main hospital lobby.

Cell Phones

We understand that communication with loved ones is important during emergency situations. Cell phones are permitted in the Emergency Department. We ask that you respect others while using your phone by speaking in a low volume.

Your Satisfaction

We appreciate hearing concerns regarding your visit to the emergency department. Patient satisfaction is very important to us. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your care while in the emergency department, I want to hear from you.

Dr Emergency Physician
Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine
City Hospital
Anywhere, USA

What has worked well with the patients in your emergency department?

Helping Patients Navigate the Emergency Department

Pacemaker Lead failure

Resus Review

Pacemaker externalized

Placement of ICD/Pacemakers have become a very safe procedure. Nevertheless, acute and long-term complications can be seen.

Lead Complication
* Acute perforation
* Dislodgement
* Infection
* Vein thrombosis
* Migration
* Conduction failure
* Insulation damage
* Externalization

This problem was faced by St. Jude Medical for there Riata silicone-insulated leads, and led to a physician advisory. These events usually showed up 4-5 years after implantation and was diagnosed either in asymptomatic patients undergoing routine imaging, or more commonly as changes in conduction and electrical conduction. The most common site was the part of the lead just below the tricuspid valve.

ICD Lead Externalized Wire

Drawing of pacemaker/ICD lead with externalized wire

Unfortunately, recommendations for interval of screening and long-term follow up are not defined. Routine removal of the leads is not recommended.

ICD Lead Externalized Wire on Fluoroscopy

Fluoroscopy image of failed Pacemaker ICD Lead with externalized wire


Fluoroscopic screening has been performed to evaluate externalization of the recalled Riata leads, and has been demonstrated to have positive and negative predictive value (88 percent and 99 percent, respectively).3

The time-dependent risk to externalization appears to be four to five years’ post-implant.3-5 Hauser and colleagues link 22 deaths to Riata/Riata ST failure from short circuits, but no deaths were linked to conductor externalization.6 A more recent study has shown that postero-anterior and lateral chest X-rays could also be an acceptable mode of imaging for the identification of insulation breaches.7 A separate yet potentially confounding issue is the increased incidence in abrasions against pulse generators linked to Optim-coated St. Jude Medical defibrillator leads, which is beginning to appear in the literature.8 A recent retrospective analysis indicates that the continued use of dual coil leads should be discouraged as they are associated with higher complication rates.9

There is no consensus on how to proceed when a lead is suspected to be defective. Implanted devices ought to be interrogated, but it is not entirely clear whether fluoroscopic screening should be performed. At present, with the recalled Riata lead, the FDA calls for fluoroscopy. However, fluoroscopic evaluation of externalization may not necessarily correlate with lead electrical failure.2-5 Prophylactic replacement should be weighed against the risks of surgery. Further study of the effect of externalization on lead failure and mortality studies is warranted.

Pacemaker Lead failure

Visualizing PPV for Intuitive Understanding and Application

Resus Review

A 1978 study by Casscells showed that physicians were dismal at using PPV test characteristic (positive predictive value, Bayes estimation) for assessing the value of a laboratory test. It was repeated this year with similar disappointing results. Both studies posed a simple question on application of laboratory test results given the test characteristics.

Here is the question both studies used.

“If a test with perfect sensitivity to detect a disease whose prevalence is 1/1000 has a false positive rate of 5%, what is the chance that a person found to have a positive result actually has the disease, assuming you know nothing about the person’s symptoms or signs?”

Only 25% got it right. The others were spectacularly wrong.

Using PPV and Bayes Formula

There are several ways to solve this problem. Shown below is how calculate the answer using PPV and Bayes formula.

PPV and Bayes formula solution for problem

Visualizing PPV

While understanding the math is important, you can develop a more intuitive understanding by visualizing the population (see figure below). If a draw a sample of 1000 patients from the population (all of the dots), only one will have the disease (red dot). Since the test has a 100% sensitivity, it will be a true positive. The remaining 999 patients do not have the disease, but 50 of them will test positive (blue dots), and the rest will test negative (black dots).

Notice that the false positive blue dots far out number the true positives. If this hypothetical example, those patients would be subjected to unnecessary further workup or treatment.

Visualization of sample population

Visualization of a sample population of 1000 patients. Red dots represent true positive patients, blue are false positives, and black are true negatives.

The solution to the posed question then is easy to see. If your patient has a positive test (which 51 out of 1000 would), only 1 actually have the disease. 1/51 is then calculated at 1.96%. PPV calculation done by visualization without any formula memorization.


  1. N Engl J Med 1978;299(18):999. Interpretation by physicians of clinical laboratory results.
  2. JAMA Internal Medicine 2014;174(6):991. Medicine’s Uncomfortable Relationship With Math: Calculating Positive Predictive Value.

Is PPV intuitive for you? Share your thoughts below.

Visualizing PPV for Intuitive Understanding and Application

Dinitrophenol Poisoning

Resus Review

Medical knowledge, especially in toxicology, is built on experimentation and the preciously won experience over time treating the ingestions and poisonings of our patients. Ignoring these hard won lessons, and having additional patients repeat the suffering is a most pitiful waste. This has been the case with 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), which despite abundant evidence of its danger, continues to tempt because of its promise of weight loss.

Dinitrophenol Uses, Mechanism, and Effects

Dinitrophenol chemical structure

DNP is an industrial chemical widely used in manufacturing. Discovered in 1933, it incidentally was identified as promoting weight loss. As much as 2 lbs/week loss could be seen, which drove its use as a diet aid. DNP uncouples mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, interfering with the body’s ability to store energy as ATP. This leads to a dramatic increase in the metabolic rate, and hyperthermia to dissipate the heat. A secondary effect of depletion of ATP caused release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and intractable muscle contractions which would generate additional thermal heat.

Unfortunately, its narrow therapeutic window, meant that even while taking recommended doses levels could become “toxic”, and severe side effects were seen including blindness (dinitrophenol cataracts) and death. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 called the chemical “extremely dangerous and not fit for human consumption”. Popularity quickly waned and reported complications from the drug nearly disappeared.

Clinical Presentation and Treatment of Dinitrophenol Toxicity

Presenting symptoms usually include hyperthermia, nausea/vomiting, and diaphoresis. Severe neurological effects such as confusion, agitation, convulsions, and coma are common. The severe hyperthermia can be difficult to control, and patients die of hyperpyrexia and multiorgan failure and refractory shock.

Treatment is almost exclusively aggressive support cares.

  • Fluid resuscitation
  • Cooling for correction of hyperthermia
  • Sedation
  • Airway control

From a physiology mechanism, treatment with dantrolene would seem to offer benefit. Since dantrolene inhibits release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum, reduction in muscle contractions and heat generation should be possible. The threshold for treatment is set at 39-40°C by the U.K. National Poison Information Service (NPIS) guidelines.

Is DNP readily available?

Because of its reputation for weight loss the lessons of DNP have been forgotten or ignored, and the use of DNP is increasing along with occurrences of its toxic effects.

While DNP is certainly available over the internet, self-reported ingestions should be investigated closely. For example, on there are a large number of diet aids using the term DNP as a marketing ploy, without actually containing any DNP at all. True sources of DNP come from industrial or shadier sources.

DNP products available on

Results searching for dinitrophenol products on

Most of these diet aids, consist almost entirely very large amounts of caffeine which can generate symptoms similar to DNP.

  • CNS: agitation, confusion, tremor, seizure
  • Cardiovascular: tachycardia, palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

However, the prominent feature of hyperthermia, muscle contractions, and severe lactic acidosis would not be seen in large caffeine ingestions and could be indicators of true DNP toxicity.


  1. Clinical features and treatment in patients with acute 2,4-dinitrophenol poisoning. Lu Y et al. J Zhejiang. University Science Biomed & Biotechnol 2011;12:189-192.
  2. 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP): A Weight Loss Agent with Significant Acute Toxicity and Risk of Death. Grundlingh J et al. J Med Toxicol 2011 July 8.
  3. Fatal 2,4-dinitrophenol poisoning…coming to a hospital near you. Siegmueller C, Narasimhaish R. Emerg Med J 2010 May 29.

Have you had a case of dinitrophenol poisoning? Share your experience below.

Dinitrophenol Poisoning