Getting to the ER: Should You Drive or Call 911?

Find out why calling 911 for an ambulance is the fastest way to get life-saving treatment to a patient. Heart attacks and strokes are common medical emergencies where time is of the essence. The more time that passes, the greater the risk of damage, and the harder it becomes to reverse symptoms.

Coryell Health paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) on board can provide pain relief en route, for example. A person who’s in shock can receive IV fluids right away. In the event of a heart attack, “Our EMTs can perform electrocardiograms as well as decide the best hospital to head to, since some medical centers offer more specialized heart and stroke care,” says Jeff Bates, MD, Coryell Health Chief Medical Officer. For heart attack patients, ”Our EMS team will take them directly to the hospital that has a cardiac catheterization lab,” he says. “They know where the patient can receive the most appropriate care. Sometimes it is here at Coryell Health Emergency Department and sometimes they take them to other facilities.”

The paramedics will also inform the ER of your condition before you arrive. Coryell Health Emergency Medical Service (EMS) coordinates care while in route to the ER, so they are prepared before the patient arrives.

Guidelines from the American College of Emergency Physicians can help you make that decision. Ask yourself these questions. If the answer to any of them is “yes,” call 911:

  • Does the condition seem life threatening?
  • Could it get worse and become life threatening on the way to the hospital?
  • Would distance or traffic conditions cause a delay in getting the victim to the hospital?
  • If you try to move the person, will it likely lead to more harm?
  • Does anyone in the household have or have symptoms of COVID-19?

Among the common symptoms and signs that point to a medical emergency are:

  • Shortness or breath or breathing difficulty
  • Pain in the chest or upper abdomen that lasts two minutes or longer
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision
  • Speaking difficulties
  • Mental confusion
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Bleeding that won’t stop after 10 minutes or longer
  • Coughing up blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Severe allergic reaction, such as to an insect bite

If you call 911:

  • Speak slowly, calmly and clearly.
  • Give the patient’s name, the address and phone number. If you’re on the road, note the street or highway you’re on and the direction you’re traveling.
  • Briefly describe what’s going on and when the problem started.
  • Don’t hang up until you’re sure the dispatcher has all the information she needs and that you’ve followed any instructions she’s given you.
  • Leaving on the porch light, even during the day, assists the ambulance in finding the correct location. If possible, have someone flag down and meet the ambulance.
  • Secure pets and move all the furniture out of the way.

Preparing for emergencies

Medical emergencies are unexpected, but there are some things you can do to prepare for one.

  • Organize your medical information. List the names and contact info for your regular doctors, chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma, surgeries and hospitalizations, and medications. Keep copies at home, in your car and in your wallet.
  • If you have kids, complete a ”consent to treat” form for each child. Make copies for the babysitter, school nurse and anyone else who cares for your children.
  • To learn more about preparing for emergencies visit

Know your 911 service area. To set up a “test 911 call” visit this website and select your state