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#Fearless Family: What To Expect From US Healthcare

By Lindsey LaForge
#Fearless Family Writer

Interacting with the healthcare system can be a daunting and anxiety provoking experience, especially if you’ve never done it on your own! Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help lessen some of that anxiety and uncertainty. This article discusses some of the common healthcare settings (in the United States) and answers some general questions to help you prepare!

Doctor’s Offices

How do I get a doctor? Do a quick internet search for your area or use your insurance company’s website to search for covered providers. Then, call and see if they are: a) accepting new patients, and b) accepting your insurance. If you don’t have insurance, some offices have programs in place to provide free or lower cost care. Don’t be afraid to call and ask!

My doctor’s office has a doctor and a nurse practitioner/physician’s assistant. Which one should I see? In a primary care setting, either is fine! Nurse practitioners or physicians assistants can do most of the same things a doctor can do (do an exam, diagnose you, prescribe medications, etc.). They receive lots of education just like doctors do and they receive regular supervision. That being said; if you aren’t comfortable seeing them, don’t be afraid to speak up and request to see doctor!

When should I got to the doctor?
When you join a new office: Call and schedule an appointment to meet with your new doctor. They will want to have information on your history, medications, and other relevant health problems to have on file for when you need to go in the future.

When you are sick: Call the office and explain what’s going on. The receptionist may need to consult with a nurse and may request to call you back. Typically they will be able to schedule you within a day or two.

After regular business hours: If you aren’t having an emergency, most doctor’s offices have on-call phone lines. Check to see if they have a special line for after hours. If they don’t, call the regular number and it should give you an option to speak to a nurse. The nurse will listen to your explanation of symptoms then a) explain what they think is going on, and b) give you a recommendation on further treatment (i.e. calling and making an appointment in the morning, going to the emergency room, etc.).

What happens when I arrive at the doctor’s office? Start by walking up to the receptionist’s desk and giving them your name. They may ask for your insurance information or give you paperwork to fill out. You will wait in a waiting area until the nurse comes out to bring you back. The nurse will call your name and bring you into the office. They will often take your height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse. Depending on what type of appointment it is, they may ask you to change into a hospital gown before the doctor comes in. (They will give you privacy and the doctor will knock before they enter the room).

I’m nervous about talking to my doctor. What should I say? Be honest. Doctors are not judgmental and they have heard it all before! Be sure to include all your symptoms and answer their questions the best you can. They will likely ask you if you have any other questions or concerns before they leave. Feel free to bring anything else up when they ask, they really do want to know! Once the doctor has finished the exam and discussed your treatment options, they will take you back to the waiting room or check-out area. Every office is different, but the they may ask you for a co-payment or to schedule future appointments at this time.


I have to go to the emergency room and I’m scared! What should I expect? If you haven’t arrived by ambulance, start by walking up to the receptionist and giving them your name and giving a general description of your symptoms. Most likely you will be given paperwork to fill out. Find a seat in the waiting room. A nurse will come out (depending on how busy it is will depend how long this takes) and bring you into a triage room. In the triage room, they are assessing you to determine your needs (i.e. how quickly you need to be seen). They may take your vitals (blood pressure, pulse, etc.) and ask you to describe your symptoms. They may give you a hospital bracelet or take your insurance information at this time.

Once you’ve met with the triage nurse, they will ask you to continue waiting in the waiting room until you can be seen. Depending on the severity of the reason you are at the ER will determine how long it takes until you are seen. Be as patient as you can be. When it is your turn, a nurse will come and get you and bring you into the ER. Depending on the hospital, you may be in a physical room or an area divided by a curtain/glass door. Your room will likely have a stretcher, not a bed. You may or may not have a sink or tv. Some rooms have bathrooms, but most places have shared bathrooms in the hallways.

Don’t be afraid to ask the nurses where the bathroom is or for any other need you have. Due to the many different reasons for visiting the ER, it is not possible to explain exactly what will happen once you reach your room. You may have blood taken, you may be asked to give a urine sample, you may be asked to put on a hospital gown. Sometimes they will ask you not to eat or drink until they determine your needs. It may be a long wait until the doctor is able to see you, but don’t be afraid to ask your nurse for things you need!

I have to stay overnight at the hospital, what will happen? Depending on how you arrived at the hospital (planned, from the ER, etc.) will determine how you arrive at your room. Once you arrive, your nurse will come in and help you get settled. They will take your vitals and give you some information about what you can expect. You may or may not have roommate. Each room will have a curtain so you can’t see your roommate, although you will be able to hear them. Your nurse will tell you what you are allowed to and not allowed to do (i.e. getting out of bed, visiting the bathroom, etc.).

You will have a call button and are always allowed to call for a nurse if you have any concerns or needs. A nurse will likely be in and out of your room throughout the day and the night to check on you. Your doctor will visit to check on you, but not as frequently as your nurses. Hospitals have visiting hours so you will be able to have friends/family come into the room with you during these times. You will have access to a telephone and a tv to use whenever you like. They may or may not allow you to use your cell phone (depending on what machines are present). You may hear things over an intercom.

Sometimes these are pages to doctors/staff and sometimes they are codes. Codes alert staff to different situations throughout the hospital (such as a medical emergency, a fire, a behavioral challenge, etc.). Don’t be frightened if you hear these. The staff knows how to handle them!

Mental Health System

How do I find a counselor? Similar to finding a new doctor: Do a quick internet search for your area. Use your insurance company’s website to search for covered providers. Call and see if they are a) accepting new patients and b) accepting your insurance.

I found a counselor, now what? Call or if available, fill out a form online. They will ask you for your name and to describe some of the symptoms or concerns you are having. If it’s a location with multiple counselors, they may give you options as to who you’d like to see (male or female, etc.).

I have my first appointment today, what do I do? Arrive early to your first appointment, because they will have you fill out paperwork. Be sure to answer any questions the paperwork asks honestly. No one reading it will be judging you. Once inside your counselor’s office you may see multiple places to sit. Sit wherever you feel comfortable. During this first appointment, the counselor is going to ask lots of questions. They will ask you to describe why you are there, your past history, any medications you take, and other general questions.

After the counselor has finished this initial paperwork you may have time to begin discussing the reason you’ve scheduled the appointment. If not, your counselor may summarize some of the things they feel they are able to help you with and ask if you are interested in scheduling future appointments.

Other helpful tips for beginning counseling: Feel free to bring a friend or family member with you for moral support. You may feel comfortable having them in the appointment with you or you may want them to wait in the waiting room. If you tend to get anxious when talking, bring something to do with your hands (a fidget toy, a rock to hold in your pocket, a coloring book, etc.). Sometimes counselors have things to fiddle with in their offices. Write down what you’d like to discuss before you arrive. This will help you stay on track and remember your concerns if you get nervous or overwhelmed.

You may have an instant connection with your counselor and you may not. If you can afford to, try giving it three sessions before determining if you feel you and your counselor are a good match. Not all counselors/clients have a good connection and sometimes it takes time to shop around and find the right match. Don’t be afraid to tell your counselor that you’d rather see someone else. That is 100% your right.

I’m going to the ER in crisis, what’s going to happen? You will begin your visit the same way as someone visiting the ER for a medical reason. If you are able to prepare ahead of time, feel free to bring a friend and/or a comfort object (such as a stuffed animal or favorite book). Once you arrive in your room, you may be asked to put on a hospital gown and give them all your personal items and/or things that could be dangerous (including your cell phone, any sharp items, your shoe laces, etc.) You will receive a psychiatric evaluation, where you will be asked about your symptoms, your thoughts, and if you are feeling suicidal.

Be honest with them. Once the psychiatrist has evaluated you, they will decide where you will go from there. You may be discharged with medications or recommendations to find a counselor or you may be admitted to an inpatient unit. If they determine you need to be admitted into an inpatient unit, they will have to search for an available location for you. This may take a long time. If you are going to a different location from the ER, you will be transported in an ambulance for your safety.

I’m being admitted to an inpatient unit. What will it be like? Inpatient units are locked units. This means you are not able to leave without permission. However, permission can often be earned by proving you are remaining safe. You will not be allowed to have anything dangerous, including sharp objects, medications, cell phones, etc. You may or may not have a roommate. The bathrooms are usually locked and you may need to ask a staff member to unlock them for you. You may have staff members checking on you frequently to make sure you are safe. You will meet with psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, nurses, and other professionals throughout your stay.

Be honest with them and don’t be afraid to tell them how you are feeling or asking for things you may need. During your stay, you may be trying new medications to help control your symptoms. Each unit is different, but most places have daily activities to participate in including discussion groups, crafts, exercises, and other therapeutic activities. Participating in these is important to your treatment and it fills your time! You are allowed to use the phone (though rules may vary place to place) and you are allowed to have visitors during specific hours. If you are feeling uncomfortable, scared, unsafe, or anything else that concerns you, tell a staff member. They are there to help you and want to see you feel better!

Thank you to Lindsey for sharing this incredibly informative story!

If you would like to join the #Fearless Family, please visit the #Fearless Family page for more information on submission guidelines!

If you would like to email #Fearless, you can send any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions to We do our best to respond within 48 hours, but if for some reason we cannot get back to you in that time frame, we promise we will always respond as soon as possible. You can also find us on any of the following social media sites: FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram!

Lastly, we run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.

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