Five Steps of Emergency Care

Sudden illness or injury can occur without warning, and while no one typically plans a trip to the Emergency Department (ED), everyone should know what to expect after they arrive. Doctors, nurses, therapists and technicians work as a team in the ED to provide effective and efficient care for every patient, from those with minor ailments to those with more serious injuries and illnesses.

Step 1 – Triage

Triage is the process of determining the severity of a patient’s condition. Patients with the most severe emergencies receive immediate treatment. That is why some patients may receive medical care before you, even if they arrived at the ED after you. When you arrive at the ED, emergency technicians determine the reason for your visit. A registered nurse will take your medical history and perform a brief examination of your symptoms.

The triage registered nurse will assign a priority level based on your medical history and current condition according to the following scale: Level 1 – Resuscitation (immediate life-saving intervention); Level 2 – Emergency; Level 3 – Urgent; Level 4 – Semi-urgent; Level 5 – Non-urgent. In some cases, an emergency registered nurse may start diagnostic testing to decrease the time spent waiting for medical treatment. Should your symptoms worsen as you wait, notify the emergency technician or triage nurse immediately.

Step 2 – Registration

The registration process is important for two reasons: it lets the ED staff gather information for your patient record and obtain your consent for treatment. Both are necessary for ordering diagnostic tests to enable the physician to determine your best treatment option. Patient Access Specialists can conduct bedside registration for patients who have been taken directly to a treatment room.

Step 3 – Treatment

Depending on your condition, a registered nurse may start an intravenous (IV) line. The IV line will allow the nursing staff to quickly administer medications or fluids that may be ordered by a physician. A nurse or technician may also take blood or urine samples, or they may send you for an X-ray or other imaging test before a physician sees you. Physicians may also order blood tests on an urgent basis. Test results help emergency medicine physicians assess your condition. During treatment, the staff in the ED will help make sure you are comfortable and informed.

Step 4 – Reevaluation

Your condition will be reevaluated after test results come back because the results may give the physician additional insight into the type of treatment you need. The staff may also contact your primary care physician for additional information. If you do not have a primary care physician, we may refer you to an on-call physician. After the reevaluation, the attending physician determines whether you should be admitted to the hospital or treated and sent home.

Step 5 – Discharge

Part of our job is to keep you healthy long after you’ve left the ED. All patients receive written home-care instructions to follow when discharged. The instructions describe how you can safely care for your wound or illness, directions for prescribed medications and recommendations for follow-up medical care. It is important to fully understand all instructions. If you have a question, let us know while you’re here. Be sure to follow up with your primary care physician as well.