The Emergency Department

What To Expect


Medical emergencies are unpredictable - people don't expect to have one.    You can ease the anxiety of a visit to an emergency department by learning some basic facts.

"First, it's important to know that emergency medicine over the past 30 years has evolved into a state-of-the-art, technologically advanced, fully recognized medical specialty," said Dr. Russell Harris of the American College of Emergency Physicians.   "Today's emergency physicians are highly educated and trained to handle all kinds of emergency situations and to provide the best possible care."



If you arrive by ambulance or are unconscious you will be assigned a patient bed immediately and be treated.  If someone else drives you to the emergency department, you will first enter the waiting room, where your medical condition will be assessed.



Most likely, a nurse will determine the severity of your condition, based on your symptoms, and check your vital signs, including temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.  This process is call “triage.”

Additional information will also be obtained, such as your name and address and medical history, and someone will prepare a chart.  Anyone who comes to an emergency department will not be turned away, regardless of their ability to pay or insurance coverage.

“There are many reasons a trip to the emergency department can take longer than a visit to the doctor’s office,” said Dr. Harris.   Unlike a doctor’s office, where appointments are spread out, many emergency patients may arrive at once.  Also unlike a doctor’s office, patients often must wait for the results of x-rays or tests.  You can help make the time pass more quickly and speed your treatment by planning ahead.  If you have children, take along a book or toys for them.   If possible, bring along someone to remain at your bedside.  Also, bring any up-to-date medical records, including lists of medications and allergies, and any advance directives, such as a living will.



Once you are placed in an examination area, an emergency physician will examine you, possibly ordering tests (e.g., x-ray, blood, electrocardiogram) and your vital signs will be monitored.  Nurses and other assistants will also assist you during your visit.



If you are critically ill or require constant intravenous medications or fluids, you may be admitted to the hospital.  Otherwise, an emergency physician will discuss your diagnosis and treatment plan with you before you are discharged.  You may also receive written instructions regarding medications, medical restrictions, or symptoms that may require a return visit.

“Every year almost 100 million people seek care in the nation’s emergency departments, making the ED American’s health care safety net – available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – treating patients from all walks of life – rich and poor, young and old, insured and uninsured,” added Dr. Harris.


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Material taken from the American College of Emergency Physicians.