Urgency or Emergency?

Guidelines to When You Should Be Calling an Ambulance

Medical emergencies can be frightening, but with ambulance call-out fees starting at R1 000 and reaching up to R5 000, the costs of a medical emergency could hit your pocket hard. In addition, if an ambulance is called for a non-emergency, some medical aid schemes may refuse to cover the cost and you will be held responsible.

So, when you or a loved one finds yourself in a crisis situation, how do you tell whether it’s an emergency, or something that could be taken care of by a GP or pharmacist?

What qualifies as an emergency? 

An emergency medical condition is the sudden and, at the time, unexpected onset of a health condition that requires immediate medical treatment and/or operation. Without treatment, the emergency could lead to weakened bodily functions, serious and lasting damage to organs, limbs or other body parts, or even death.

If the patient’s life is not in danger, or they could get treatment from another healthcare professional (GP or pharmacist), then it’s not classified as an emergency and you should not call an ambulance. 

When should you call an ambulance?

Below are some situations that require urgent medical care; however, it isn’t a complete list. If one of the following emergencies happen, you should call 084 124 immediately:

  • Breathing:
  • Acute or persistent shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in breathing associated with asthma (with no response to usual medications)
  • Severe chest pain, especially if it spreads to your arm or jaw and is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
  • Sudden, severe onset of abdominal pain
  • Heart Complications:
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion/altered mental state
  • Weakness in limbs/paralysis
  • Sudden loss of balance, especially in the elderly with a history of high blood pressure
  • Head Injuries:
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Fever:
  • More than 40°C
  • Does NOT respond to Paracetamol
  • Associated with all-over body rash
  • Children under 2 months with fever more than 38.5°C
  • Ongoing, persistent diarrhoea and vomiting with dehydration (usually > 8 episodes/day)
  • Trauma:
  • Deep cuts that require stitches – especially on the face
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Large, open wounds
  • Broken bones/dislocated joints
  • Head injuries with loss of consciousness
  • Eye injuries
  • Severe testicular discomfort
  • Burns:
  • Large surface area
  • Burns to the face or a large part of the hand
  • Where the burn encircles the limb
  • Electrical burns
  • Major allergic reaction:
  • Breathing difficulties, swelling of lips/tongue or throat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rash and itching over entire body
  • Poisoning:
  • Accidental or intentional swallowing of a dangerous substance
  • Any venomous bites or stings with spreading local redness and swelling
  • Back pain:
  • Back pain after trauma (such as falling), or after back surgery (< 3 months)
  • Complicated Pregnancy:
  • Rupture of membranes (waters broken)
  • Excessive bleeding during pregnancy
  • Contractions ≤ 5 minutes apart
  • Complication in current or previous pregnancies
  • Pregnancy Induced Hypertension diagnosed
  • Crowning of the baby’s head during emergency labour
  • Psychiatric Conditions:
  • Sudden aggression/psychosis
  • Previous history of psychiatric admission, possible relapse requiring emergency admission 

What should you do after calling an ambulance?

  • Wait outside where the ambulance driver can see you
  • Make sure there is space for the paramedics to move
  • Remove dogs and other animals from the area
  • Get the essentials ready, including any medication, ID documents, medical aid cards and extra clothes
  • Decide who will accompany the patient 

Still not sure when to call?

If you’re still not sure if you need an ambulance, double check with your medical aid to ensure what they will pay for, and the ambulance service provider they cover. In a vehicle accident, remember that the cost could also be claimed from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

Call us on 0860 002 378 for more information, or send an email to service@bestmed.co.za

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