What is an Emergency Department?

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  • Written By: Lori Smith
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2018
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Located within a hospital or medical center, an emergency department caters to people who are in need of urgent medical care. The unit is staffed with physicians, nurses and other trained health professionals. Individuals with serious injuries, acute pain or illnesses that require immediate attention can visit this department without an appointment, day or night, whenever the need arises. Staff members assess the physical condition of patients, perform diagnostic tests, and if necessary, admit them into a hospital for further evaluation and treatment.

The assistance of emergency service personnel is often necessary when a person suffers from a serious injury, has trouble breathing or shows other symptoms of extreme physical distress. In these instances, people are rarely able to get to an emergency department on their own, so a phone call may be placed to request aid from emergency services. Within a very short period of time, an emergency medical technician (EMT) will respond to the location of the sick or injured individual to analyze and evaluate his condition.

The EMT will typically check the person's vital signs, such as temperature and blood pressure. He may perform life-saving procedures, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or compress an open wound with a tourniquet. Once the patient is stable enough to transport, the EMT brings him to the emergency department, usually via ambulance, for treatment.


Serious injuries can occur when people are involved in automobile crashes, are victims of violent attacks, or hurt themselves at home or work. When the brain or body endures considerable damage or blunt force trauma, immediate surgery or other forms of crucial therapeutic intervention may be needed. In fact, many hospitals have a trauma team on staff solely for the purpose of handling these types of medical emergencies.

Aside from urgent trauma care, there are many reasons why someone might need to visit an emergency department. Acute chest pain, for example, may be a warning sign of a heart attack. A high fever and excessive vomiting might be a symptom of a serious illness that requires immediate medical attention.

When people arrive at a hospital's emergency department, they may be asked to sign consent forms, complete other paperwork, and provide health insurance information. A triage nurse will usually assess a patient's condition and take vital signs. In some cases, the individual will be seen by a doctor right away. If, however, his condition is less serious than that of others waiting, he may be asked to sit in the waiting room until a doctor is available.

Once the patient is called to be seen by a doctor, he is escorted to another room and assigned a bed within the ward. Following any necessary diagnostic tests, examinations, and treatment, a patient may be given a prescription for medication and follow-up instructions. He is then free to leave the facility. If, however, it is not appropriate to send him home the same day, he may be admitted to the hospital and transferred to another department where a different physician will oversee his treatment.



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