Family Health

What to Expect From Emergency Care

You've probably been to the emergency room before, and it might not have a pleasant experience. Obviously, the circumstances that got you in there in the first place contribute to a feeling of stress, but a long wait in a crowded area doesn't help. The best way to deal with the ER is to simply know what to expect. The process is largely out of your control, so mental preparation will cut down on some of the tension involved. You can ease your anxiety and maximize your emergency care by understanding an emergency room's various moving parts.

Emergency care can be the difference between life and death for patients with traumatic injuries or serious symptoms of disease. It's the safety net of the health care system, designed to care for everyone at all times, regardless of their ability to pay. A large segment of the population relies on emergency rooms, but a substantial number of patients with nonurgent medical conditions are also driving increased demand. As a result, packed emergency rooms are getting even more crowded, making visits stressful and confusing for patients.

Here's what you can expect from a typical emergency room visit:

Wait Times

In the waiting room, you'll be asked to complete health care documents and forms. A triage nurse will obtain your vital signs and a brief rundown of your symptoms. The average wait time to see a physician is about an hour, but that varies depending on the day, time, and other factors. Severe cases are given priority, so if you have a nonurgent condition, you will probably need to wait longer. Dignity Health also offers InQuicker, which allows you to choose a projected treatment time then wait at home.

Treatment and Testing

When it's your turn to be seen, a staff member will take you to a treatment area for an examination. A physician or nurse will review your medical history and ask for information about your allergies, medications you're taking, and past surgeries or medical conditions. As part of the exam, you may need to have blood tests or imaging tests to check for certain diseases or conditions. It can take an hour or more to get your results depending on the amount of tests and the number of patients ahead of you.

Ongoing Care

You may be referred to a specialist or back to your regular physician for follow-up and ongoing care. On the other hand, you may be admitted to the hospital if your emergency care provider feels your condition is serious or warrants further observation and testing. Be aware that it can take several hours to be admitted, particularly at busy hospitals or hospitals with scarce resources.


Before you're discharged from the emergency room, you and your physician will discuss test results, a treatment plan, and follow-up instructions. You will also receive paperwork and any necessary drug prescriptions.

Cost Considerations

The average emergency room visit costs about $1,230 according to PLOS, but charges vary by hospital and insurance coverage. Emergency rooms accept most private insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. To minimize your out-of-pocket expenses, try to visit a hospital that participates in your insurance network.

Emergency-Room Alternatives

Urgent-care centers and retail clinics have emerged as alternatives to the emergency room. These facilities are a viable option if your condition requires prompt attention, but you cannot wait to see your primary doctor. Most urgent-care centers have a walk-in policy, extended hours, and shorter wait times, and they typically charge much less than an emergency room.

An ER can't be convenient for every person and every situation, so be prepared for what you're walking into. You're sure to be worried about yourself or your loved one, but remember that emergency care centers have many people to address and rest assured that they're doing their best to meet your needs in an efficient and timely manner.

Posted in Family Health

Trained in medical marketing communications, New York City-based Jeffrey Young has been a health, science, and medicine writer for 15 years. He has also led content-development groups at two PR agencies and currently freelances for both corporate and academic clients, including Bayer, Covidien, Eli Lilly and Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., and Pfizer. Jeffrey's strengths include interpreting research findings and telling stories that resonate with the average health consumer or patient.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.