According to the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the CDC), over one in seven Americans aged over 65 will spend at least one night in hospital each year. While many of these hospital visits are planned in advance, many are not.
Emergency trips to the ER can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved, which is why it’s important for caregivers to plan ahead. Taking the time to be prepared will save a lot of stress, time, and energy for you and your client and help ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
Being ready for an unplanned trip to ER well in advance simplifies the process of getting out the door and ensures both you and your client have everything you need to be as comfortable as possible during your hospital stay.
Additionally, having all the necessary information and documentation at hand will ease the process for hospital staff and your client on arrival.
Some of the items you choose to pack will, of course, be a matter of personal preference, as well as taking into account how much you can comfortably carry. Here we offer a list of eight items you’ll be glad you packed in your emergency bag.
1. Client ID
Prepare a personal information sheet for your client that includes their full legal name (to match insurance and other documents), preferred name (if this differs), address, preferred language, and a copy of their photo identification.
This will save time on arrival and reduce stress, as it can provide all the primary information health professionals need to process your client in the first instance.
You may also like to include other relevant personal information on this sheet in case your client requires an extended stay. For example, blood type, preferred faith tradition, any special dietary considerations (low sodium, halal, kosher, diabetic, vegetarian, vegan, etc.), and any communication issues (for example, if your client becomes easily confused, has a hearing or speech impairment, or prefers speaking in a language other than English).
2. Up-to-date documentation
Create a list of the up-to-date documentation needed and make duplicate copies so they can be kept together in your emergency bag for easy access.
These document copies may include:
- Insurance card and information (include policy numbers and pre-authorization phone numbers)
- Medicaid and/or Medicare cards (and supplemental plan information)
- Organ donor affidavit, if applicable
- Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, and/or an original DNR (do not resuscitate) order, if applicable.
Remember to keep these up-to-date, for example, if your client changes insurers.
3. ICE contacts
‘In Case of Emergency’ (ICE) contacts are a group of numbers to be called in a crisis. ICE apps are available so that you can save these to your cell phone (or that of your client). This is a valuable thing to do as once an emergency contact is set, even if your phone is locked, ‘Emergency Call’ can be selected to see and call any pre-set ICE numbers.
In addition to your contact information, it is helpful for your client to have these set up for their most recent doctors and other healthcare providers (for example, specialists for specific conditions). ICE contacts can also include key family members, ministers, close friends, or neighbors.
You are likely to need to provide regular updates for your client’s family if they cannot attend the ER, to keep them informed about what is going on – so having these key numbers pre-programmed into your cell phone will be of benefit.
On this note, be sure to have a note attached to your emergency bag to remind you to take your cell phone and charger!
4. List of illnesses or medical conditions
It isn’t always easy to remember all the details when you are thrust into an emergency, so prepare a list in advance of any existing conditions or chronic illnesses your client is being treated for.
This should be easy to obtain from your client’s primary care physician, including how each condition is currently being treated.
Remember to update this information regularly when any changes occur.
While not essential during a medical emergency, it is still valuable to list other conditions that may affect your client in case they need to stay in the hospital for an extended period following preliminary examinations, including:
- Do they use glasses, dentures, hearing aids?
- How much assistance is required for activities, such as bathing and eating?
- Are there any dietary considerations, including personal preferences, allergies, etc.?
- Do they have specific communication difficulties?
- For patients/clients with dementia, what are their usual daily schedule patterns/self-care preferences?
As you are likely to be asked the same questions by many people during your ER visit, it will save you all a lot of time – and ensure consistency – if you can present a written record instead of having to repeat your answers verbally.
This information is worth compiling, as it can be helpful in many other scenarios, such as routine doctor’s visits or trips to specialists.
5. List of current medications (and any allergies)
If medication management is part of your caregiving responsibilities, you will probably already have a complete, current list of medications ready to go. Make sure the list includes doses and schedules, making it easier for hospital staff to ensure your client gets the very best care. This list should include any over-the-counter treatments.
Typically, there is no need to bring the medication itself, as hospitals prefer to dispense their own – but this is a personal choice for you and your client to decide.
It is essential to list any medication or food allergies/sensitivities/adverse reactions, including the type of reaction and intervention used, such as an EpiPen.
Remember to keep a copy of this list regularly updated.
6. Comfort items
You might consider packing supplies that will make your client more comfortable if a trip to the ER turns into an inpatient admission. While these should be kept to a minimum to avoid excessive baggage, it is important to include items in your emergency bag that will make your client feel comfortable during this potentially distressing time. Items may include:
- Change of clothes (including socks and underwear)
Keep comfort and practicality in mind, and remember undergarments, sleepwear, and slippers. Patients may be required to wear a hospital gown to make care easier for staff but are often allowed to wear personal items at different times during their stay.
- Glasses, dentures, hearing aids (and spare batteries)
It’s easy to overlook these, but they are important to ensure clear communication and help your client feel more comfortable. If they have spare pairs/sets or need extra batteries, keep them in the bag.
Most hospitals provide the essentials for personal hygiene, but it’s nice to have familiar items from home, such as shampoo, hair accessories, moisturizer, hand/face wipes, etc. You can always decant liquid products in smaller quantities into miniature bottles to save space, and these can be topped up later, as necessary.
- Food and water
Depending on why you’re at the hospital and how long you will be waiting, you may not have an opportunity to eat or drink. So bring some of your client’s favorite easy-to-pack snacks like dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, cereal, etc. These are perfect for keeping you both going if you don’t have time to stop and eat.
- Reassuring or comforting objects
These might need to be thrown in the bag as you are leaving the house but are important to consider. Ideas include a favorite novel/magazine/puzzle book, an iPod/MP3/CD player with headphones, family pictures, religious texts or objects, a favorite blanket or pillow, or stuffed animal.
These items can be particularly important for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, who may find being in a different environment especially challenging.
- Portable cell phone, battery, and wall plug/USB charger
You may already have a car charger for your phone, but if you’re stuck at the hospital for long hours, a portable charger will come in handy.
- A small amount of cash
Loose change can be helpful for vending machines or if you need to make small purchases using cash during your hospital visit.
It’s tough to remember information you are being given when stressed, so have a pad and pen handy to take notes, focusing on the medical staff’s explanation of the problem, treatment, and next steps. This will also be helpful when remembering what has been discussed to share with your client’s family.
- Map/directions for the fastest route to your nearest hospital/ER department.
8. Your own ‘caregiver bag’
When taking a client on an emergency trip to the ER, you are likely to be in for a long wait and should not neglect your own basic needs during this time.
Some items you may want to include for your own comfort: toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant), phone and charger, personal medications, headphones for music or audiobooks, books/magazines, water and snacks, hand sanitizer, and a spare set of clothes — you never know if you will have to stay overnight.
Remember to leave any valuable jewelry or personal items at home. It’s not worth the risk of losing them at the hospital.
Life as a caregiver often involves medication management, doctor visits, housekeeping, and many other items on a long ‘to-do’ list. Occasionally, it can include unplanned hospital visits to the ER with your client, adding an additional layer of stress to your week.
However, it is possible to significantly reduce this stress and worry by being prepared in advance for the possibility of an ER trip and packing an ’emergency bag.’ Where appropriate, do this in collaboration with your client, so they feel involved in the process and are comforted knowing that everything is in order should the need ever arise.
Smartcare software offers a variety of easy-to-access tools that can assist you with many of the above tips, including tools to add and review documentation, a Family Portal for real-time updates, secure messaging with your client’s care team and family members, etc.
Contact Smartcare to discuss your requirements and find out how we can help!