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Ambulance or Not?

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Ambulance or Not?

Nov 21, 2013

You’re having chest pains and difficulty breathing, and no one is around to take you to the emergency room. You may not want to call 911 and tie up the emergency line. Do you drive yourself to the hospital or call for an ambulance? Emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen discusses the “ABCs” of calling 911 and talks about the health conditions in which you should be calling for an ambulance.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Madsen: So, you've got something wrong. Do you call the ambulance, or do you drive yourself in? How do you make that decision? I'm Dr. Troy Madsen, Emergency Physician at the University of Utah Hospital, and we're going to examine that today on The Scope.

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Dr. Madsen: So, let's say something happens to you. You're at home. Either you're having some symptoms like some chest pain or some cough. So, you're thinking to yourself, "I don't want to call an ambulance. I don't want to call 911 and tie up an emergency line there. I don't want to have to take an ambulance trip in, when that could be using it when someone else needed the ambulance." Then there's the cost, too. An ambulance costs $500 to $1,000 for a trip in the ambulance. So, you don't want to have to use that, as well.
So, it's a tough decision. It's something that's probably worth thinking about beforehand, before you're in that situation and have to make that decision. So, the biggest thing I'd tell you is the time to call an ambulance is-think ABC's. If you're having trouble with your airway, where you feel like your airway is blocked off. If you're having trouble breathing, where you can't get a good breath. And let's say you have asthma, and you just cannot breathe. Or you're having chest pain with the C, the circulation. Anything that's going to affect your body circulation. Or you are bleeding profusely; you're losing blood. Those are all reasons to call an ambulance. They're going to get you to the treatment you need more quickly than just driving yourself in.
Of course, if you get in a car and you're having trouble breathing, you could potentially black out and put others at danger as well. So, keep that in mind if it's something where you driving yourself could put others in danger. The other of course is, let's add on a D onto the ABC. D is for disability. If this is something that could cause a long-term disability-the big thing I'm thinking about here is a stroke. If you're having numbness and weakness on one side of your body, difficulty speaking, that's something where time is of the essence. And the faster we can get you to the ER, the better we can treat you.
If this is anything where time is of the essence or getting care sooner is going to make a difference. Strokes are one of those things where time is of the essence. If you cut off a finger or a toe, that's one of those situations where the sooner we can treat you and the sooner that the surgeon can get that re-implanted, that's going to make a difference as well.
Teeth can make a difference, too. Let's say you get a tooth knocked out. You know, the best thing to do in that situation is get that tooth. You can put it in some milk to preserve it, but the sooner we can get that tooth back in, the better chance it has of survival.
So, if it's something where time is of the essence, where time can make a difference, getting an ambulance there quickly can definitely help you out. And we always in the ER would rather err on the side of maybe someone coming in by ambulance who maybe didn't need it, versus someone not coming in by ambulance, and something bad happening because they didn't get the care they needed.

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