If you're in a car accident or having a heart attack, you know you need to head for the emergency department. For other injuries and illnesses, it can be more difficult to decide whether to go to a HonorHealth emergency department, seek out an urgent care center, or see your primary care physician.
If you're unsure about where to go for care, you should contact your family physician for advice immediately.
When to Call 9-1-1
Call 9-1-1 immediately when you or someone you know has a serious or life-threatening injury or medical condition. Do not try to drive yourself, or anyone else, to the hospital if the condition appears serious. Paramedics who respond to 9-1-1 emergency calls are specially trained to stabilize patients and coordinate their care with the most appropriate hospital emergency department.
Life-threatening medical conditions that warrant calling 9-1-1 include, but are not limited to:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Stroke symptoms, including dizziness, weakness on one side, slurred speech or sudden onset of paralysis.
- Severe abdominal pain, especially after an injury.
- Uncontrollable bleeding.
- Blunt head trauma or a penetrating wound to the head.
- Confusion or loss of consciousness, especially after a head injury.
- Neck injury.
- Poisoning or suspected drug overdose.
- Venomous snake bites.
- Bites from scorpion stings or poisonous spiders, such as black widows or brown recluses — particularly in the case of small children, the elderly or anyone with a suppressed immune system.
- Serious burns or cuts.
- Broken bones.
Not all emergencies that should be treated in the hospital are immediately life- threatening. In such cases, call 9-1-1. When paramedics arrive, they'll evaluate the situation and tell you if it's safe to take your loved one to the hospital yourself.
However, individuals with chest pain, dizziness or stroke symptoms should never drive themselves to the hospital. It's dangerous for them and other drivers.
Navigating the emergency department
When you arrive at the emergency department, head straight to the reception desk. You'll get checked in as soon as possible. Based on the number of patients being seen, you may have to wait after checking in, or you may immediately go through the triage process.
In what order will I be seen?
The order is determined by more than arrival time. Other factors are the severity of your illness or injury and the type of medical professional your condition requires.
What is triage?
Triage is a quick health assessment that will guide the best course of action for your care and treatment.
What happens after I've talked with the triage nurse?
It depends on other cases being handled by staff when you arrive.
Staff must give priority to patients with life-threatening emergencies. They may have arrived behind the scenes by ambulance or helicopter.
The goal is for you to receive quality care from an emergency physician and staff as quickly as possible.
Wait time depends on many factors, so it isn't always possible to provide an exact time estimate. Please keep in mind that things can change in an instant in the emergency department. While it might be quiet out front, ambulances may be arriving at the back entrance. The staff's focus is to make sure all patients get the time and attention they need.
Why can't I eat or drink while I wait?
Depending on your condition, you may need tests or procedures that require you to fast beforehand, so it's important to avoid eating or drinking while you wait. If you eat or drink, you'll have to wait longer before receiving the care you need.
Will I be admitted to the hospital?
Your emergency room physician and hospitalist (the physician who would care for you while you're in the hospital) will decide if that's necessary.
When you hear your name called, it's time to see the emergency physician. He or she will review your medical information, assess your condition and order lab or imaging tests, if necessary.
A lab study generally means drawing your blood. Imaging tests can mean X-rays, ultrasounds or CT scans. The time required for these tests depends on the severity of your condition, the number of patients needing tests and their arrival times. A CT test may increase your wait time.
A radiologist will interpret the imaging tests and discuss the results with your emergency room physician. You'll get your test results from your emergency room physician as soon as possible.
My doctor called ahead. Do I still need to provide my medical history?
Yes, you'll still need to be assessed by a staff member who will ask questions and collect your medical history. You'll still need to go through triage. Tell your staff member everything about:
- Previous health problems.
- Any medications or treatments you're using.
- Allergies to drugs.
- Recent trips and vacations.
- If you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Anything else your staff member should know.
After treatment, if you haven't been admitted to the hospital, a member of your care team will help you get ready to go home. You'll receive all of your paperwork, prescriptions and treatment instructions, and you'll have a chance to ask questions. The discharge process can take some time to ensure you have everything you need for a comfortable recovery at home.
What happens after I am discharged?
Once you've been discharged, you can head home. Be sure to review your treatment instructions and follow them closely.
It's a good idea to ask a friend or family member to pick up your prescriptions so you don't have to worry about it on your way home. Tell your staff member which pharmacy. is the most convenient for your friend or family member.
You'll get specific medical instructions to follow and a recommendation for timely follow-up with your doctor or specialist. If you don't have a primary care physician, you'll receive a list of doctors you can choose from.
What if I have questions or concerns about my emergency room visit?
Please contact the hospital's patient relations coordinator. You can get his or her name and contact information from an emergency room staff member.
Urgent conditions usually can be treated at home until you're able to visit an urgent care center or your physician. Examples of urgent situations include:
- Ear infections.
- Urinary tract infections.
Physician Office Visits
Colds, minor flu symptoms, chronic conditions and prescription refills are situations that usually can be addressed by visiting your physician during office hours. If you're tempted to visit the Emergency Department in these situations, you'll probably have to wait. An Emergency Department sees patients in order of priority based on the seriousness of their conditions.
Need a Physician?
If you do not have a primary care physician for you or your family members, see our HonorHealth Physicians locations page to find a location near you or visit our visit our Find a Doctor page.