Risk Management Tools & Resources


Ready, Set, Action — Managing a Medical Emergency When It Occurs

Ready, Set, Action — Managing a Medical Emergency When It Occurs

Laura M. Cascella, MA

Preparing for medical emergencies requires time and resources, but the results can prove significant. When a medical emergency occurs, healthcare providers and staff members must be ready to quickly implement their emergency response plan. Even if providers and staff are not experienced with, or highly knowledgeable of, the type of emergency taking place, the common goal is to "manage the patient's care until he or she recovers fully or until help arrives."1

An article focusing on utilizing a stepwise approach for managing medical emergencies in family medicine recommends a dual strategy that involves a medical response and a communication response that occur simultaneously.2

In terms of medical response, a critical aspect of managing the patient's care is ensuring that he or she is receiving a sufficient supply of oxygenated blood to vital organs — a goal that is supported through the delivery of basic life support. Various emergency preparedness resources also recommend following the PABCD approach, which involves:

  • P = Positioning the patient appropriately, depending on the situation
  • Assessing and managing (if necessary) the patient's:
    • A = Airway
    • B = Breathing
    • C = Circulation
  • D = Considering definitive treatment, differential diagnosis, drugs, or defibrillation — but only after the previous steps have taken place3

More specific algorithms and protocols related to managing certain types of emergencies — such as sudden cardiac arrest, anaphylaxis, bronchospasm, swallowed instruments or devices, chest pain, shock, seizures, etc. — can be obtained through specialty organizations, professional associations, and state and local healthcare resources.

While the medical response is occurring, various communication activities also should take place, including calling for emergency help, directing staff, obtaining information from family members/caregivers and providing them with updates (if applicable), calling the hospital emergency department to alert them about the situation, and documenting the sequence of events as it takes place.4

Although the number of activities involved in an emergency response and the rapid succession with which they must occur might seem indicative of chaos, proactive planning, training, and drilling will help prepare healthcare providers and staff to react quickly and efficiently on the patient's behalf. For more information, see MedPro's article titled Managing Medical Emergencies: A Three-Pronged Approach.

1 Haas, D. A. (2010). Preparing dental office staff members for emergencies: Developing a basic action plan. Journal of the American Dental Association, 141(Suppl 1), 8S–13S.

2 Sempowski, I. P. (2002, September). Dealing with office emergencies: Stepwise approach for family medicine. Canadian Family Physician, 48, 1464–1472.

3 Haas, Preparing dental office staff members for emergencies; Haas, D. A. (2006). Management of medical emergencies in the dental office: Conditions in each country, the extent of treatment by the dentist. Anesthesia Progress, 53, 20–24; Sempowski, Dealing with office emergencies; Reed, K. L., (2010). Basic management of medical emergencies: Recognizing a patient's distress. Journal of the American Dental Association, 141(Suppl 1), 20S–24S.

4 Sempowski, Dealing with office emergencies.

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