The emergency room: what to expect

Early in your visit to the emergency room you will meet with a triage nurse who will ask you questions about your health problems or those of your family member. At that time, your vital signs, such as temperature, pulse and blood pressure may be taken. The triage nurse's responsibility is to utilize criteria to prioritize patient care in the ER. This means the triage nurse will screen your condition and, based on the nature and extent of your injury or illness, refer you to the ER physician or other qualified medical person for a medical screening exam (MSE).

In general, we categorize patients into one of the following groups:

  • Resuscitation: Examples include, but are not limited to, cardiac arrest (heart stopped), respiratory failure, unconsciousness, active seizures, anaphylaxis, insulin or septic shock.
  • Emergent: Examples include, but are not limited to, acute chest pain, multiple injuries, severe allergic reactions, overdose (if unconscious), congestive heart failure, serious infection, hyperthermia and hypothermia.
  • Urgent: Examples include, but are not limited to, burns, moderate pain and broken bones.
  • Semi-urgent: Examples include, but are not limited to, earache, abdominal pain and upper respiratory symptoms.
  • Non-urgent: Examples include, but are not limited to cold, flu, minor sprains and strains, minor cuts and abrasions, dental pain and medication refills.

Semi-urgent and non-urgent cases may wait until all resuscitation, emergent and urgent cases are cared for first. If another patient arrives after you, but sees the doctor before you, he or she is likely in a resuscitation, emergent or urgent condition.

If you have a medical emergency or are in labor, you have the right to receive the following care within the capabilities of this hospital's staff and facilities, even if you cannot pay, do not have medical insurance or are not entitled to Medicare or Medicaid:

  • An appropriate medical screening exam
  • Necessary stabilizing treatment (including treatment for an unborn child)
  • An appropriate transfer to another hospital, if necessary

The triage process occurs at the beginning of your treatment; we hope that you will wait and receive your medical screening exam and complete medical treatment, as appropriate. If you begin to feel worse or experience more pain during your wait, please promptly tell the triage nurse.

If after a medical screening exam, the physician or qualified personnel determines that your medical condition is not urgent, emergent or requiring resuscitation, you will be given the following options:

  • Stay to see the emergency room doctor for care and treatment after being registered and paying the hospital fees for such medical care and treatment
  • Follow up with your family physician
  • Seek medical care and treatment at a community clinic. A list of community resources is being provided to you for your reference. If your condition worsens, you may return to the ER for additional care.

The MSE enables us to direct our emergency room’s resources to patients in need of emergency care and educate patients about alternative, potentially lower-cost community resources for medical care and treatment for non-emergent and urgent conditions.

University Hospital and Medical Center prides itself on providing the highest level of care to our patients. As a patient, it is important that you are familiar with our policies and procedures to ensure that your experience with us is positive.

How long will I be here?

The time you can expect to be in the emergency room will depend upon a number of factors including:

  • Your complaint and the evaluation and treatment that is necessary
  • The number of incoming ambulances with urgent cases, which is very unpredictable
  • The number of patients waiting for treatment at any given time and the severity of their illness or injury. Although your problem is important to us, your patience and understanding in treating life-threatening cases before treating less severe cases are greatly appreciated.
  • Blood and urine test results are available about one hour after specimens are collected. Please be advised that other tests may take longer.
  • If X-rays are ordered, they are usually obtained in the order requested, except for those deemed "urgent." The length of time needed for X-rays to be taken and evaluated is dependent upon the number of patients in the emergency room at the time.

Possible dispositions:

  • Discharge after treatment is completed. We will supply you with written and verbal discharge instructions (and prescriptions if indicated) before you leave the hospital. Please allow us time to do this, as it is important to your medical care
  • Consultation with (or referral to) your own doctor or a specialist. The time this may take depends upon your healthcare provider’s availability and response time. We will keep you notified of your status but please be aware we cannot control physicians' schedules or other emergencies.
  • Admission to the hospital and transfer to your room. This requires orders from your admitting physician (not the ER physician), the availability of a room and communication from the ER nurse to the floor nurse. Your patience in this situation is greatly appreciated.
  • Transfer to another facility. In the event you should require a service not provided by our facility, or you request a transfer, arrangements will be made as quickly as possible.