CBSN

Help ERs Help You

Last month in New York, a patient collapsed in an emergency room, a security guard stared at her, but nobody helped her, and she died. In Los Angeles last year, a patient struggled on the floor of an ER for 45 minutes as employees walked past. One worker even mopped around her. She also died.

Both incidents sparked outrage. Both were caught on tape.

They represent extremes, but there's no denying that ERs in the United States are getting more and more crowded as hospitals cut staff or close them altogether, and as a growing number of people without health insurance use them as their healthcare source of first resort, using them "as their doctors," observes CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.

On The Early Show Thursday, LaPook said there's "no excuse" for either incident.

But LaPook says there are some things you can do to help assure you'll receive the best possible care in the ER:

Go With A Buddy

It's always good to have a family member or friend help you to the ER and stay with you. Don't go alone.

Be Prepared

Have a list ready of your medical problems (high blood pressure? diabetes? allergies? etc.), medications, dosages, and important medical and other contacts. You should designate someone -- a family member or friend -- to be your "healthcare buddy" -- to take care of the list. If you're on the way to the ER, you can call your healthcare buddy and they can send this information to the hospital via fax or e-mail.

Contact Your Doctor on the Way

Your doctor should be contacted by you or your buddy to let him or her know what your condition is. Your doctor is most familiar with you medical history and should be aware you're on your way. "Never go there alone," LaPook says. "You want to work the system from the outside with your buddy and from the inside with your doctor."

MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved