When to Use the Emergency Department (ED)

Man pushing woman in wheelchair in hospital hallway.An emergency means you could die if you don’t get care quickly. Or you could be hurt permanently (disabled). Read below to know when to use — and when not to use — an emergency department (also called ED).

Dangers to your life

Here are examples of emergencies. These need immediate care:

  • A hard time breathing

  • Severe chest pain

  • Choking

  • Severe bleeding

  • Suddenly not able to move or speak

  • Blacking out (fainting)`

  • Poisoning

Dangers of permanent injuries

Here are other emergencies. These also need immediate care:

  • Deep cuts or severe burns

  • Broken bones, or sudden severe pain and swelling in a joint

When it’s an emergency

If you have an emergency, follow these steps:

1. Go to the nearest emergency department

  • If you can, go to the hospital ED closest to you right away.

  • If you cannot get there right away, or if it is not safe to take yourself, call 911 or your police emergency number.

2. Call your primary care doctor

  • Tell your doctor about the emergency. Call within 24 hours of going to the ED.

  • If you cannot call, have someone call for you.

  • Go to your doctor (not the ED) for any follow-up care.

When it’s not an emergency

If a problem is not an emergency, follow these steps:

1. Call your primary care doctor

  • If you don’t know the name of your doctor, call your health plan.

  • If you cannot call, have someone call for you.

2. Follow instructions

  • Your doctor will tell you what you should do.

  • You may be told to see your doctor right away. You may be told to go to the ED. Or you may be told to go to an urgent care center.

  • Follow your doctor’s advice.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.