West Valley Medical Center - January 28, 2016

It's a scary scenario, but imagine this: Something's wrong with your loved one your aging parent, your spouse, whoever.

He's complaining about chest pain. You notice that he's sweating, short of breath, and feeling lightheaded and nauseous. The pain is moving the arm or up to his jaw.

Those are signs of a heart attack, says the American Heart Association.

You know you've got to get medical care. Should you drive to the closest emergency room or call 911?

The answer: Call 911. Even if the closest emergency room is just a few minutes away, still call. Why: Because with a heart attack, those first few minutes matter, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

A heart attack happens when blood and oxygen can't adequately reach the heart, usually because of a clot, says the American College of Emergency Physicians. The longer this goes on, the more damage the heart muscle will have.

Here's why calling 911 can save time and save your loved one's life.

635,000 people in the US have a first-time heart attack each year.

The 911 Dispatcher Is A Great Multitasker.

She can be sending you an ambulance and collecting information about your loved one's symptoms simultaneously. That way, when the emergency medical service (EMS) providers arrive, they already know what your loved one is dealing with, says the NHLBI.

If you drive, however, you won't be able to give any instructions until you get to the hospital. Those precious minutes could be better spent getting help over the phone.

Just be ready to answer a few questions from the 911 dispatcher such as:

Where are you located?

If you're at your loved one's house, make sure you know the exact address and can give a landmark or two to help the ambulance find you.

What's your loved one experiencing?

You'll want to know when the symptoms started, what they are, and whether they get better or worse as you wait.

Is the person on any other medications or allergic to any medications?

The EMS providers will want to make sure they don't give any medications that clash with others your loved one is taking or spark an allergic reaction.

EMS Can Start Giving Medical Care Right Away.

Your car probably doesn't have the equipment to monitor or manage heart attack symptoms on the way to the hospital like an ambulance does, says the NHLBI. The EMS providers can start giving medication right away, monitor vital signs, and give other treatments all before arriving at the emergency room.

Ambulances Can Get To The Closest Emergency Room Faster.

If you drive, you'll have to obey the speed limit and stop at red lights, halt for pedestrians, and find a place to park once you arrive at the emergency room. Fingers crossed that you don't get lost or stuck in traffic.

And hopefully, you don't have to stop at a gas station on the way. Ambulances don't have to worry about any of that. If you call 911, an ambulance with lights and sirens can fly through traffic jams, red lights, and speed limit restrictions without getting pulled over.

You Can Focus On Your Loved One.

If your loved one is panicked about their symptoms, she'll be relying on you to keep her calm. You might not be able to do that as well if you're driving. You'll need to focus on the road. Also, if she's having nausea or lightheadedness, you might have trouble getting her into your vehicle.

Calling 911 Can Mean Quicker Care.

If your loved one arrives at the emergency room by ambulance, he's more likely to get medical attention sooner than if you drive, says the American College of Emergency Physicians.

That's because emergency care is based on how severe the person is. It's not first come, first served. People who come in an ambulance might be regarded as having a more severe condition and needing care sooner than someone who was healthy enough to arrive by car.

One Last Thing: Don't Hang Up.

When you call 911, be sure to stay on the phone until the EMS providers arrive. Don't hang up until the 911 dispatcher says it's okay. Even if she's just asking for updates instead of giving instructions, you're taking the best step possible to save your loved one's life.