You know when to use virtual care (24/7 online treatment for a wide range of non-emergency medical conditions), urgent care (extended and weekend treatment for minor injuries and illness), and when to go to the ER (severe but not apparently life-threatening emergencies). But do you know when to call 911?

Making the right decision could save a life.

It happened to Philip Smith; a healthy, fit 39-year-old marathon runner from Frisco. After completing his morning run, he told his wife, Megan, that he didn't feel well. Uncharacteristically, he went upstairs to lie down, noting that the uncomfortable sensation in his chest was getting worse. When cold sweats, nausea and numbness in his hands followed, Megan called 911. Her call started a process that very likely saved Philip's life.

Turns out, Philip was having a massive heart attack, with 100% blockage of his left front artery—known as the widow maker. The moment Megan called 911, Frisco Fire Department first responders knew they were dealing with a chest pain victim. Once they determined Philip was having a heart attack, they transmitted his EKG to Medical City Frisco and called the hospital to give additional details. This alerted the cardiac cath lab staff and allowed them to be ready and waiting for Philip when he arrived in the ambulance.

"The sooner you call 911, the sooner EMS arrives and it starts the chain of care—the more likely you'll survive," said Marc Krock, MD, the interventional cardiologist who treated Philip. "This case is the perfect example of identifying the signs of a heart attack."

When to call 911.

While it's not always obvious when an injury or illness is life-threatening, in general, if someone is experiencing new, unexplained or severe symptoms, those are clues that you might need to call 911.

For example, if you're having:

  • The worst headache of your life. It could be a migraine, but it could also indicate a stroke or other life-threatening condition. With many overlapping symptoms, it can be hard to tell. With a stroke, time is brain, so act FAST. Read Stroke or migraine? How to Know the Difference.
  • Unexplained chest pain. It could be heartburn, but it could also indicate a heart attack. These two conditions also have overlapping symptoms. In fact, nearly 40% of female patients report experiencing heartburn or indigestion shortly before their attacks. With a heart attack, time is muscle. Unfortunately, the average person having symptoms waits three hours before getting help, which is why many heart attack patients die before reaching the hospital. Read Heartburn or heart attack? How to Save Your Own Life.

Other situations which may require a call to 911 include:

Why you should call 911 instead of driving to the ER.

Here's what you need to consider when deciding whether to jump in the car or call emergency services.

According to the CDC, calling 911:

  • Is like bringing emergency room resources to your door. No matter how quickly you think you can get to your local ER, first-responders can probably get to you faster, using lights and sirens to cut through traffic if necessary, and potentially start treatment right away.
  • Saves precious time at the hospital. Philip's story illustrates how technology allows hospital emergency personnel to be fully prepared to treat a patient before he arrives, including having real-time test results such as an EKG report.
  • Increases the likelihood that you'll get a lifesaving drug. For example, the blood-clot-busting stroke drug alteplase can only be administered within three hours of a stroke. You're more likely to receive this effective treatment if you arrive at the hospital by ambulance.
  • Ensures that you'll be taken to the most appropriate hospital. You may know where your closest ER is, but do you know where the closest certified stroke center or cardiac cath lab is located? EMS professionals know where to take you for the specialized care that is most likely to save your life.

Always call 911 if you think someone is having a life-threatening medical emergency.

For less severe accidents, injuries and illness, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City ER near you or visit Medical City Virtual Care for non-emergency medical treatment from your computer or smartphone.

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