When severe weather hits, there are ways to prepare. Stocking up on water, batteries, flashlights, and non-perishable food items are on everyone’s list of emergency preparedness. But what about situations you can’t prepare for? In the event of a medical emergency during severe weather, do you know what to do?
“While medical issues can certainly be cause for concern, it’s important to be able to discern what is a true emergency and what medical issues can actually be handled at home,” explains Dr. Jonathan Stallkamp, Medical Director of Hospital Medicine at Main Line Health.
During snow storms or other severe weather, many hospitals are faced with an influx of visitors, which means hospitals need more manpower to deal demand and patients waiting for care in the emergency department might be waiting a little longer for care than they would regularly. Rather than rushing right to the emergency room when a medical issue arises during severe weather, make sure that it’s not something that can wait until the next day or that you can address with a primary care doctor over the phone.
So what kinds of requests can wait until the next day? Think general health questions, symptoms like mild coughing, sore throat or sneezing, and issues like prescription refills. If you have questions like these or non-threatening symptoms, the first step is to try calling the office or direct line of your primary care provider. Often, in the event of weather emergencies, the office answering service will provide an alternate phone number for your doctor. If they think you need to be treated immediately, they can advise you to call 911 or visit the emergency department.
“If you can’t decide whether or not something is an emergency, think of it as separate from the weather,” suggests Dr. Stallkamp. “Would you normally call the hospital or for emergency care in this situation? If the answer is no, your primary care provider should be the first call you place.”
Another aspect to consider during severe weather is electricity-powered health devices like oxygen or nebulizers. For anyone with devices like these, losing power could cause health issues. In the event that you do lose power, head to the nearest shelter, where you’ll be able to use electricity to keep your devices going.
While Dr. Stallkamp encourages patients to think twice before calling for emergency assistance, he does emphasize that if you are experiencing symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or fever, it’s best to head to the emergency department. If driving conditions are unsafe, call 911 immediately and emergency responders can come to you.
“If you truly believe you are in danger or dealing with a potentially life-threatening situation, call 911 immediately or, if it is safe to drive, head to the nearest hospital or urgent care center,” he says.
Are you prepared for a medical emergency? Visit our website to request an Emergency Readiness kit and view a list of Main Line Health emergency room locations.