How Does An Emergency Center Operate?

Updated on October 5, 2020

Millions of people worldwide visit emergency rooms (ERs) every year. Many of them suffer grave consequences, while others may come out of the situations that they’re in with only the mildest of consequences. If you’re lucky enough that you never had to visit an ER, you’re in the smallest percentile. It’s not always easy to stay away from trouble that might lead you to the ER.

Although the emergency room sounds scary to many people, people working there are saving many lives. They’re changing the fates of thousands of people from grim to bright. Thanks to numerous TV shows that try to present what happens in an ER, and how the emergency center operates from the first step to the last, people are aware of the fast-paced environment in which these physicians, nurses, and other ER staff members work.

An ER operating system is quite fascinating for many people, because the ER staff works 24/7 in the emergency medicine sector in order to help save lives. Moreover, ER staff work under constant stress, since patients are coming in “hot,” and every second makes a difference.

How Does An ER Visit Looks Like?

A visit to the ER can be horrifying and pretty stressful for everyone, especially the patients. What makes it so scary? The primary factor is that patients don’t know what’s wrong with them and that fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, especially when it’s your health. Moreover, visiting an unfamiliar place, full of people you’ve never met before, is one more fear you can add to that list.

Additionally, patients may have to undergo various tests to help determine what’s wrong with their health. Not knowing what’s going on, running back and forth to different rooms, and seeing all the needles and equipment, can make things much harder and fearful as well.  

These things are standard practice in the emergency room of Idaho Falls Community Hospital, along with any other respectable hospital. However, people respond to these things differently, and fear is the primary emotion that they generally experience.

To help quell this fear, it may be important to understand how an emergency center operates. Within this article, you’ll learn more about how the flow of an ER works, and the basic strategies that every ER uses so it can function properly. You’ll also find out which special techniques are used daily in order to help save lives.

Understand How An ER Functions

Usually everyone has a basic idea of how an ER operates due to an actual visit, or possibly a movie or television show. It involves an ambulance bringing in patients, a gurney that hurtles through the hallway, and several people working frantically to save a patient’s life when every second is precious. These scenes are familiar, but not always accurate. Not all ER cases involve so much drama since many of the cases are not life-threatening.  

AdobeStock 2644300
Emergency room entrance with ambulance

ER Staff Will Determine The Type Of Your Injury

Before anything actually happens, someone from the ER staff needs to determine the type and severity of the injury or illness. Physicians in the ER see various emergency medical conditions every day. There’s no other medicine branch that comes across such a vast array of different cases as much as ER doctors do in a single week. The variety of these conditions can be vast, however. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Cuts from falls and accidents, broken bones, burns
  • Car injuries
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sports injuries
  • Chest pain, heart attacks
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • Persistent vomiting, severe abdominal pain
  • Fainting, confusion, altered level of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing, pneumonia, asthma attacks
  • Overdoses
  • Strokes, numbness in extremities and/or loss of function in arms or legs
  • Food poisoning
  • Loss of hearing and/or vision
  • Unconsciousness
  • High fevers caused by complications from diseases
  • Blood when coughing, vomiting, urinating
  • Severe allergic reactions from foods, insect bites, or medications
  • Blood in bowel movements

Next Step Is Triage

Upon arriving at the ER, the first stop is, of course, triage. The triage room is where each patient’s condition is assessed and prioritized into three standard categories:

  • Less urgent
  • Urgent, but not life-threatening
  • Immediately life-threatening

Performing this categorization is absolutely necessary. This guarantees that patients with life-threatening conditions aren’t kept waiting for too long. It doesn’t matter if they’ve arrived a few minutes later than somebody else who suffers from a minor and/or less urgent problem. Their condition must be corrected immediately or they could die. 

The triage nurse is responsible for recording all vital signs, including blood pressure, respiratory rate, pulse, temperature, etc. Moreover, the nurse will gather a brief medical history regarding a previous and current medical state, allergies, and any medications taken, etc.

Registration Is Up Next

When triage is done, the next step is registration. This allows the ER staff to get your basic statistics. Registration is basically when you provide the hospital with your HMO card, Medicaid, Medicare, or any other insurance information.

This step allows the ER staff to create a medical record, so that all of your digital or traditional X-ray results, lab tests, and medical history will be together on a single chart for them to refer to whenever they need it. All this information is then compiled together so the hospital can generate a bill for their services. If, by chance, the patient arrived in an ambulance with a life-threatening condition, this step will be postponed until the patient has been taken care of.

The Infamous Examination Room

When all previous steps are done, the patient is brought to the examination room. An ER nurse will take a good look at the person to obtain all the required information they need. The nurse will provide the patient with a hospital gown, which allows for a proper examination.

Some ERs are divided into several smaller areas that help them serve their patients much quicker. These areas usually include a trauma center, a chest-pain ER, a pediatric ER, an observation unit, and many others.

Upon finishing all the tasks, the nurse then takes the patient to another room to wait for an ER physician. The doctor will obtain a more detailed medical history, regarding all past medical problems, present illnesses, social history, family medical history, and a thorough review of all the bodily systems.

After all that, the physician will generate a list of possible causes for the illness or injury, based on the symptoms. This list is also known as a differential diagnosis. The most likely diagnosis can be determined based on the patient’s physical examination and symptoms. However, if differential diagnosis isn’t enough to discover what health issues are being experienced, a physician will request for diagnostic tests.

Diagnostic Tests Aren’t As Scary As They May Seem

Some health issues are easy to diagnose, while others can be obscure or tricky. An appendicitis diagnosis can often be very problematic. If the patient happens to suffer from this health problem, a physician will require urinalysis and blood tests. The blood will go into tubes of a different color, each with different additives, and these additives can differ depending on the test needed:

  • A blue-top tube helps see the blood’s clotting levels.
  • A red-top tube is only used for testing the serum known as the liquid (non-cellular) part of the blood.
  • A purple-top tube or a complete blood count (CBC) tube is used for measuring the adequacy of the red blood cells, the type and number of white blood cells, but it can also determine if there’s an infection present.

Before performing these tests, the ER physician may ask the patient not to drink or eat anything at all. This is extremely important so that the bloodwork will come out clean and provide all the information that the physician needs to see.

Final Diagnosis And Suggested Treatment

Upon obtaining all the information needed, the ER physician will determine the most likely diagnosis, thanks to the differential diagnosis. However, the physician may decide that they still doesn’t have enough information to come up with a final diagnostic decision. Therefore, more tests could be added. 

Moreover, in cases like an appendicitis, the ER physician will consult a general surgeon. The surgeon will perform a physical examination, review lab test data, and go through the patient’s medical history. By examining the symptoms, the surgeon will know if the patient suffers from an appendicitis or not. That way, the ER physician will know whether to send the patient for an appendectomy (appendix removal procedure) or if they have to perform more tests to determine the cause of the health problem.

Upon discovering the root cause, the ER physician will know which treatment is suitable for a specific health problem, and can provide all information necessary to resolve the issue. In some cases, antibiotics may solve the problem, while other scenarios may require surgery. 

Disposition Is The Final Step Of The Way

Based on a patient’s medical condition, the ER physician will decide which step to take. He can either admit the patient to the hospital, ask for a transfer to an appropriate facility, or even discharge the patient.

If the patient is admitted to the hospital, all the instructions are explained at that time. It’s possible that a transfer to another medical institution is recommended due to the severity of the injury or illness. The other hospital may have better resources for the condition. However, the patient must first give their consent if this is to occur. 

If the ER physician decides to discharge the patient from the hospital, all the discharge papers are printed, or written out, for the person to review. These instructions consist of all the details regarding any medications and/or other required treatments. 

Final Thoughts

Modern ERs are vital in today’s society. These departments have saved countless lives over the years, and knowing how the entire process works are of vital importance. People are mostly afraid of all the things that they aren’t familiar with, and these step-by-step instructions on how an emergency center operates should help them remain calm should they ever end up in the ER.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.