Emergency Department FAQ
To help you understand what to expect during an emergency department (ED) visit, we have provided answers to some commonly asked questions.
Why do patients have to wait for treatment in the emergency department?
People wait in the emergency department for many reasons. Some of these include:
- Waiting while the sickest patients are seen first
- Overcrowding due to seasonal issues such as flu
- Ambulance diversion because of a very full emergency department
- Many patients arriving at once
- Waiting for radiology and laboratory results (some test results take longer than others)
- Waiting for consultations from specialist physicians
- Shortages of inpatient beds in the hospital, resulting in patients remaining longer than expected in the emergency department
The very best care takes time. A triage staff person will grade your condition by severity. Patients with potentially life-threatening conditions such as a stroke, heart attack, hemorrhages and severe trauma are seen first. Patients are seen by order of severity of their condition, not by order of when they arrived. Once in the treatment area, your time spent in the ED may depend on your symptoms, illness and/or whether you will be admitted to the hospital. The time of day and the day of the week may also determine how busy the emergency department is. Typically, the emergency department is busiest between 3:00 and 11:00 p.m. Weekends and Mondays are usually the busiest days of the week.
Why are some patients seen before others?
We must care for critical patients with life-threatening conditions first. If you have a minor illness or injury, you may have to wait while sicker or more severely injured patients are seen first.
What is triage?
The triage process determines who needs to be seen first in order of severity. During triage, the severity of a patient’s condition will be determined. In addition, when a patient first comes to the emergency department, personal and medical history information will be obtained, and vital signs will be checked, including temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
Do extensive wait times affect treatment outcomes?
Our emergency staff works very hard to make sure no one waits so long it will affect the severity of illness or injury. Some patients may wait longer than is ideal, but we do our best to make sure the sickest patients are seen first and that all patients are treated as quickly as possible.
An empty waiting room doesn’t mean that the emergency department is not busy assisting patients. For example, patients who arrive by ambulance enter the emergency department through a different entrance. Also, many important “behind the scenes” activities take place in the emergency department that patients do not always see, such as processing lab and other test results.
How long does it take to get laboratory and radiology results?
To accurately diagnose your condition, we need time to review your laboratory and radiology tests. Most laboratory and radiology results take approximately two hours to process. However, some tests take longer than others.
Who will be caring for me?
As a patient in the emergency department, you will be cared for by a team of highly skilled professionals. These include the following:
- A medical doctor (MD / DO) has overall responsibility for your care. Doctors talk to the laboratory, nurses and other doctors as necessary.
- Physician assistant and/or nurse practitioner are mid-level providers who work in conjunction with the physician to care for your illness or injury.
- A registered nurse (RN) will assess and monitor your physical condition, give you medication, maintain your intravenous line and keep you and your family informed of any tests and procedures. Each nurse works very closely with your doctor to provide the best care possible for you.
- Emergency department technicians may also be involved in your care.
Can my family visit me in the treatment area?
Yes, you may have up to two family members wait with you in your treatment room. They must stay by your bedside. If the emergency department becomes full, or if a caregiver feels that you or another patient in the immediate area needs privacy, your family member may be asked to return to the waiting area. For the safety of our patients and staff, the ED is locked down. While we appreciate the need for access to the ED, please be aware that frequent entering and exiting takes away from patient care.
What happens to me after discharge from the ED?
When you are discharged from the emergency department, you will be given instructions on self care and a telephone number to call if you have continued problems. You may be instructed to follow-up with your primary care physician. You will be responsible for your own transportation home.
Our goal is to provide each patient with emergency medical care of the highest quality. If you are dissatisfied with the care you receive at any time during your stay, please inform your nurse or doctor before you leave so that we may address your concerns.
We appreciate your feedback!
After you are treated and released from the emergency department, you may receive a survey regarding your recent experience. Please complete the survey and return it as soon as possible. We value and appreciate your feedback, and we will use your comments to identify opportunities to improve. We also encourage you to recognize any of our staff members who may have gone above and beyond in delivering your care.