What to Expect in the Emergency Room (ER)

Man and woman in emergency room talking to healthcare provider.You or a loved one may have had an accident or serious illness. If so, you are likely to be worried and afraid. Knowing more about the emergency room (also called the emergency department) can help you feel less anxious.

What is the emergency room (ER)?

The ER is a department in a hospital or medical center. Unlike a doctor's office, you don't need an appointment. But that means many people may need treatment at the same time. In that case, the most urgent problems are treated first. If, while you are waiting, you feel that your condition has changed, let the triage nurse know. 

When you arrive at the ER

You'll talk to a nurse trained in emergency care (triage nurse) as soon as you arrive. He or she will ask about your problem. Your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure will also be checked. You'll see a doctor right away if your injury or illness is severe. Otherwise, you may be asked to wait while more seriously ill people are treated first. While you wait, you may have X-rays or lab work done.

Your emergency care

In the ER, a doctor or team of doctors and nurses will care for you. You may have X-rays, blood work, or other tests. You will need to wait for the results of any tests you have. You also may wait to see a doctor who specializes in treating your problem. In the meantime, you will be made as comfortable as possible. If your condition changes, let your doctor or nurse know right away. If they tell you they want to keep you for observation, but not for admission to the hospital, have someone check with your health insurance company about whether that service is covered.

Going home

You may be admitted to the hospital if you are very ill or need further evaluation or treatment. But you often can be treated right in the ER. Before a friend or family member takes you home, you'll be given written instructions about how to care for yourself and prescriptions for any medications you need. Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse if you have any questions about the care you received, additional instructions about the care you need after ER discharge, or about your prescriptions.