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It can be frightening to have to visit the emergency department (ED) at any time, but people who live with chronic pain have unique fears to deal with when making that decision.

  • Fear of Being Labelled a Drug Seeker
  • Fear of Needing More Pain Medication
  • Fear of Being Out of Our Comfort Zone
  • Fear of the “Fight or Flight” Reaction
  • Fear of Wondering if My Pain IS Legitimate

As a patient with chronic pain, I believe that if you feel you need to go to the ED, then you should go. Here are some suggestions for chronically ill patients that may improve your ED visit:

1. Make Sure You Have a Regular Family Doctor

Even if your ED visit is for something completely unrelated to your chronic pain, having a regular family physician shows that you are dealing with your health on a regular basis. What happens if you don’t have a family physician? In some countries, finding a family doctor is next to impossible. Attending the same walk-in clinic or urgent care centre is the next best thing you can do for yourself, along with getting your prescriptions written at the same location.

2. Try to See Your Family Doctor First

If at all possible, see your family physician before going to the ED. Or, if you can, take a letter from the doctor to the ED explaining the doctor’s findings and recommendations. This can help to speed up service in the ED (though it doesn’t always work).

Depending on the circumstances, this shows you’re using the emergency department as your treatment of last resort, as opposed to the primary place you go for pain medication or medical assistance.

3. Get Your Prescriptions Filled by the Same Pharmacy

One way to ensure legitimacy regarding your medications is to have them all filled at the same pharmacy. This allows doctors to do a quick search to make sure you’re not getting multiple prescriptions filled by multiple doctors.

4. Bring a List Of Your Medications with You

At a minimum, try to bring a list of your medications and dosages with you to the ED. If possible, take the prescription bottles with you. This goes a long way to showing the ED doctors that you have legitimate health concerns and that you know what you’re taking and why.

Consider having a letter from your doctor on hand that outlines your chronic condition and your treatment plan. If you are going to the ED for a problem related to your condition, it can speed things up for the doctor to understand how you’ve been treated in the past. 

5. Cooperate with The ED Personnel

This may seem like common sense, but when we’re in a panic because of pain or injury, we tend to forget our normal sensibilities. Try not to become demanding when you get to the emergency department. You’re not the only one there, and you have no idea what the other patients are going through.

Your pain or injury may very well be severe but will be triaged appropriately, according to the nurses. YOU might not agree with their assessment, but without knowing the bigger picture, it’s impossible for you to say you’re the most critical person to be seen, even if you feel that way.

Work with the ED personnel, stay calm and cooperative, and you’ll generally find yourself being treated respectfully by nurses and doctors who genuinely care about your health and well being.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the BC Emergency Medicine Network.


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