Leaving the Emergency Room in a Fog

Emergency Room
Emergency Room by French-Danish artist Thierry Geoffroy
From Wikimedia Commons

Alfred woke up at 4 am on Sunday morning with pain in his left foot. That place where his new running shoes had rubbed a raw spot earlier in the week was getting worse. By 9 am, the foot was red and swollen, with a large oozing sore, and Alfred decided to go to the Emergency Room at his local hospital

Late on Sunday afternoon, Alfred returned home from the ER. He crutched his way into the house and collapsed on the sofa. His teenage son quizzed him.

"What did they say was wrong?"
"Oh, an infection," replied Alfred.

"Well, what did they do for it?"
"I think they cut a chunk out of my foot," said Alfred.

"Whoa! Did they give you any medicine?"
"Yeah, a shot," said Alfred.

"And what’s with the crutches?"
"I’m supposed to use them for a while," said Alfred, looking annoyed.

"How long a while?"
"It’s written down," said Alfred, digging a crumpled sheet of paper out of his pocket.

"Says here you should take some prescription and elevate your left leg for two days."
"Two days? I have to go to work tomorrow," groaned Alfred.

"And you’re supposed to go back to the ER if you have a fever or pain in your leg. Where’s the prescription?"
"Here, look through my wallet. Maybe I stuck it in there," said Alfred.

The good news is that Alfred recovered completely, with some assistance and cajoling from his son. But how common is it for people who go to the Emergency Room to be foggy about what happened and what they should do once they leave the ER?

What do you think is the percentage of ER patients who do not understand at least one of the following: their diagnosis, the emergency care they received, their discharge care, or their return instructions?
  • 38%
  • 48%
  • 78%
  • 88%