What to Expect When You Call an Ambulance

Calling for an ambulance in a medical emergency could make the difference between life and death, but it’s not a call anyone would wish to make since it means you’re in a situation in which immediate assistance is needed.

Maybe there’s been an accident, or someone you care about has a medical emergency. You pick up the phone and dial 911. Then you hear the operator asking you, “What’s your emergency?”

You tell them as quickly as you can what’s going on and why you think you need an ambulance. But then what? Do you know what’s going to happen next?

If you’ve never had to call 911 before, you don’t really know what to expect, which makes an already stressful experience overwhelming. Learning about the protocols could help you keep calm when it’s most needed.

 When Do I Need to Call For an Ambulance?

According to guidelines provided by the American College of Emergency Physicians, you need to call for an ambulance when:

  • There are signs that the person’s condition is life-threatening
  • Their condition could deteriorate and become life-threatening on the way to the hospital
  • Moving the person may result in more harm or injury
  • They need the equipment and skills provided by emergency medical technicians and paramedics
  • Getting to the hospital by car would take too long and would put their life in danger.

You’ll have to make the decision of whether or not to contact an ambulance based on your best judgment of the circumstances. If you’re having doubts, it’s better to call. Even if you believe you can drive to the hospital faster in your own car, keep in mind that the ambulance is ready to begin emergency treatment as soon as it arrives.

The following are some examples of situations when you should call for an ambulance:

  • Someone appears to be having a stroke: facial droop, arm weakness, difficulty speaking.
  • Someone appears to be having a heart attack: pain or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea
  • They passed out, are not responsive, or are not responding adequately
  • They’re having a seizure
  • They’re having a severe allergic reaction
  • They’re bleeding uncontrollably
  • They have severe burns
  • They’ve ingested poisonous substances
  • Have taken too much medication, whether on purpose or by accident, including illicit drugs.

What’s your emergency?

When you call 911, the dispatcher will ask you a sequence of questions, the first of which is usually, “What is your emergency?”

Even though it’s difficult, try to remain calm and answer all their questions since this allows the 911 responder to send the right type of EMS providers.

You’ll need to provide them with your exact location. Nowadays, most calls come from cellphones which makes it difficult to pinpoint your precise location. If you’re in an unfamiliar place, you can use your smartphone to get the address or look around you for any landmarks, street names, or numbers that you can communicate to the 911 operator.

Stay on the line even after the ambulance is dispatched. The operator can instruct you on what to do, including giving first-aid, and they can maintain communication between you and the team on the ambulance in case they’re having trouble locating you, or there are delays.

Types of EMS Providers

When you call 911, the operator will ask you a series of questions, and depending on your answers, they will know which type of EMS provider to send.

First responders like police officers and firefighters are trained to give basic first-aid care and CPR.

EMTs or emergency medical technicians have more training since they need to attend emergency care programs such as EMT Training Brooklyn so they can do more than a first responder. They can conduct noninvasive interventions like administering oxygen, glucose, or epinephrine.

Paramedics go through additional training and can administer medication intravenously, place breathing tubes, and use defibrillators.

What Happens After You Call

EMTs and paramedics can perform some interventions on the scene and during transport that can save a person’s life and reduce pain and suffering. Keep in mind that although EMTs and paramedics are well-trained, they do not have a medical license and are not doctors, so you shouldn’t view ambulances as hospitals on wheels. They are not there to diagnose you and prescribe treatment. Their goal is to provide emergency medical care and take you to the hospital.

They take patients to the most appropriate emergency room in the area, depending on the level of care required and the resources needed for their specific medical emergency. You may not be able to go to the hospital of your choice. They usually try to be accommodating, but it depends on distance, traffic, weather conditions, and if the hospital’s resources are suitable for the emergency.

Once the ambulance arrives at the hospital, it’s up to the ER team to determine which patients will receive medical care and when. If you arrive by ambulance, you will not automatically be placed at the front of the line. The ER team prioritizes by need and not by mode of transportation.

You should also keep in mind that you may not get to the hospital faster than by driving a regular car. This also depends on the need. You’ve probably seen in movies that they’re rushing through traffic, but emergency driving is very dangerous, so if the patient is stable and it’s not necessary, the ambulance will be driven at a regular speed.

In real life, when you see ambulances rushing with lights and sirens, they are responding to a call and need to get there as soon as possible to stabilize the patient.

Lastly, the cost of the ambulance ride will be determined by your health insurance coverage and applicable deductibles. The company in charge of your ambulance will send you a bill later. It’s best to check with your insurance provider on these details, but above all, do not hesitate to contact an ambulance if you believe one is required. As we mentioned before, it could mean the difference between life and death.