How to Decide if You Need an Ambulance

When there is a medical emergency, time is of the essence to get the patient the care they need. It’s crucial to get immediate help to improve the patient’s outlook, and to get them medical attention as quickly as possible. If their condition requires a trip to the emergency room, is it better to call the ambulance, or to simply drive to the hospital yourself? Here’s a few ways to decide.

Ambulance or Driving–A Life or Death Decision

If you’re not sure whether to call the ambulance, or just get in the car and drive to the nearest hospital, that decision can literally mean life or death. Deliberating about which decision to make can waste precious time that you might not have.

Always call the ambulance if you or someone around you is experiencing any of the following:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • severe bleeding that does not stop when pressure is applied
  • unconsciousness
  • severe allergic reaction
  • signs of shock
  • an injury that may get worse if moved (such as from a fall or car accident)
  • mental confusion or difficulty speaking
  • sudden, severe pain
  • seizures

These are all considered serious medical emergencies that require immediate attention from a doctor or other medical staff. Even if you are unsure as to whether the person needs an ambulance, always air on the side of caution and dial 911. Ambulance crews consist of paramedics and EMT’s who will be able to assess the patient’s condition and determine the necessary course of action.

Ambulances can function as hospitals on wheels of sorts, and are equipped with the right tools for medical professionals to do their jobs, like radios to contact the hospital, blood pressure and oxygen monitors, defibrillator paddles and other equipment. If the vehicle does not have what it needs, a process known as ambulance remounting ensures that the vehicle is equipped with the proper hardware to effectively treat patients.

While still scary to experience, minor injuries and illnesses do not generally require you to call an ambulance. Things that are not necessarily emergencies, but still require medical attention can include:

  • minor cuts, bruises, and scrapes
  • burns
  • bone breaks, sprains or fractures
  • severe sore throats
  • earaches
  • cuts not accompanied by heavy bleeding
  • early stages of labor
  • mild or infrequent vomiting

These are situations where you do not need to call an ambulance and can instead drive to the hospital.

What to Say When You Call an Ambulance

It’s important to remember to stay calm when calling for an ambulance. Pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. Speak slowly and clearly, taking time to answer every question the dispatcher asks you. 911 operators will ask what your emergency is and where you are located. You will also be asked your name and contact number.

Do not hang up while you are on the phone with them. The dispatcher will send the appropriate assistance to your location and will stay on the phone with you until help arrives. Make sure that you provide correct, complete address information for the dispatcher, as well as an accurate description of the problem that the patient is experiencing.

What to Expect When the Ambulance Arrives

When first responders arrive, they will immediately assess the patient’s condition. They may ask questions about the individual’s medical history, their family physician, any medications they may be taking at present and if there is a hospital preference. Interventions may be provided at that time, such as cardiac monitoring, oxygen, nebulizer treatments or IV fluids.

At that time, the patient is typically transported to an agreed-upon hospital where they will receive further medical treatment. On the way to the hospital, their condition will be consistently monitored and relayed to the accepting hospital.

If you suspect someone needs an ambulance, do not wait. Call for assistance immediately and wait for help to arrive. Never cancel the ambulance, even if the person’s condition improves markedly, or they tell you they do not need to be seen. Waiting may cost a person their life. When in doubt, seek immediate medical help.

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How to Decide if You Need an Ambulance