Doctors Reveal the Emergency Room Secrets Everyone Should Know

Over 140 million people walk through the doors of an emergency room each year. While it’s no ones’ idea of an ideal day, it’s often inevitable.

Doctors, nurse practitioners, and ER physicians know the process like the back of their gloved hands. They’ve offered up their top 15 insider secrets to help shed light on what a trip to the ER is really like.

It’s not first-come, first-serve

Doctor and nurses wheeling a patient.

You’ll need to be patient on emergency-packed days. | Sam Edwards/iStock/Getty Images

“The Emergency Dept is not based on first-come-first-served. We do not go in order of arrival time. The sicker patients are seen first,” – Arabia Mollette, M.D., ER physician

“We triage patients and that allows us to see the sickest patients first. If you have been waiting for a long time, we understand your frustration, but unfortunately are likely treating sicker patients before we get to you.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physician

Next: Don’t be afraid to speak up.

The more you talk, the better doctors can treat you

A patient and doctor having a consultation in a hospital.

Be honest with the hospital staff. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

“Be prepared to repeat your story because we (each team member) want to verify that we have the story straight by getting it directly from you. This will help us improve your care.” – Arabia Mollette, M.D., ER physician

“Tell your doctor not only what your symptom is, but why it brought you to the ER. Make sure the doctor understands both the what and the why.  These 3 questions can help clarify this: What is the context of your sickness? What experience do you have with your symptoms? What are you worried you might have?” – Larry Burchett, M.D., ER physician

Next: Know when to just visit your regular provider.

ERs are not for alternate opinions on chronic conditions

Doctor showing xray to a patient.

Don’t go to the hospital unless it is an emergency. | Johnkellerman/iStock/Getty Images

“Although many ERs have access to invasive testing, the emergency department is not the best place to have these conditions reassessed if there is no change in symptoms. If we order tests and workup in the ER, it often is more expensive to you in the long term. Following up with a primary care provider is important in helping us best help you, and get to the bottom of your problem.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physician

Next: You don’t have to go it alone.

Bringing a friend or relative will help you and your doctor

A doctor and patient going over files.

Having a supportive friend or family member along is helpful. | Bowdenimages/Getty Images

“Visiting the ER can be overwhelming and exhausting. If you aren’t feeling well, it may be hard to remember all of the information being given to you during your visit. Your trusted friend or family member can be a great sense of support for you, and information for us. They can help you remember what was said and done during the ER visit, next steps, and warning signs for when you need to come back to the ER.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physicia

Next: We know you had high hopes, but…

A typical ER visit is casual

A nurse giving a vaccine to a patient.

Here’s what to expect. |

“After registering at the front desk, you are seen by a nurse who asks you about why you came to the ER. We get your vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, pulse, etc) and medical history, we will have you wait in the waiting room or bring you back to a room … once some results have come back, your ER doctor will discuss with you being discharged or being admitted, depending on the situation.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physician

Next: You probably didn’t know this

You have the right to ask for a physician

A nurse greeting two people.

You can request to see a physician. |

“You may go to a fast-track or rapid assessment/treatment area where you are seen by a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA). They are capable of addressing your needs and are supervised by physicians, but at any time you would prefer to see a physician, it is your right to ask.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physician

Next: Knowledge is definitely power.

If possible, have any medical history on-hand

A doctor writing down notes on a form.

This will help out the hospital staff in addressing your needs. | Megaflopp/iStock/Getty Images

“Depending on the emergency room you go to, your doctor may be seeing up to 20 patients by herself! All information you can give us about your medical history, medications, and allergies is extremely helpful when we are in the room with you … I often don’t have time to dig back in your records to learn all about your surgeries or previous medical problems.” – Kimberley Brown, M.D., Emergency medicine physician

Next: The best time of day to go to the emergency room.

Some believe the best time to go is mid-morning

An empty hospital waiting room.

Try to go when the waiting room is less busy. | Bitterfly/Getty Images

“As a nurse in an urban ER, I know that quality care for the stable patient is impacted by numbers. From 6am-12 patient load is the smallest, everything happens faster. Hard to deliver the best care with 45 in the waiting room & no beds.” — Registered Nurse

“Between the hours of 6 a.m. and noon you have fresh practitioners and usually a higher level of administration present in the building, which helps with patient flow on a lot of levels.” – Registered Nurse

Next: Not everyone agrees

While others don’t believe there is a ‘best time’

A hospital waiting room.

You never know how long your wait might be. | Mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images

“I personally don’t think there is an ideal time to go to the ER. It is not used for ‘true emergencies’ anymore. It’s your PCP (primary care provider), your therapist, your only hot meal, your dialysis clinic, your child’s pediatrician, etc. The face of the ER has drastically changed.” – Registered Nurse

Next: Everyone could use more of this on a trip to the ER.

 Patience goes a long way

Two doctors running into a door.

There might be other patients they need to attend first. |

“I should hope that no matter what the situation is they will always get the best care but you will be treated better if you are polite and patient and understand triage. I always hope a patient understands that if you have been in the ER waiting for 4 hours with a sprained finger or a bloody nose and someone comes in having a MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack) .. they are obviously going to be seen first.” – Nursing student

Next: Did you know doctors can ‘up triage’?

Your doctor can call ahead

Happy members of a medical team.

Your doctor can reach out to them ahead of time. |

“We actually have a “pre-expect” form we fill out about a patient and his condition when a doctor calls. It’s not unusual for us to then ‘up triage’ the patient and get him to see someone sooner.” – Jin Sue, M.D., attending ER physician

Next: An ambulance isn’t all you made it out to be.

An ambulance does not guarantee speed

An IV at a hospital.

Showing up in an ambulance does not mean you’ll be able to jump the line. |

“My ambulance will get you into the hospital pretty fast. But just because I take you in the back it doesn’t mean you’ll stay there. You’ll see a triage nurse, who will rate the urgency of your problem from 1 (get a doctor now!) to 5 (may I introduce you to this lovely plastic waiting room chair?).” – Jin Sue, M.D., attending ER physician

“When we arrive, don’t expect us to say hello. We’re focused on the patient. Once he’s stable, then we’ll introduce ourselves.” – Don Lundy, Paramedic

Next: It may not be as fast-paced as you expected.

Most emergency room visits aren’t actually emergencies

Doctor showing xray to a patient.

Not everyone shows up with an urgent emergency. | Johnkellerman/iStock/Getty Images

“I think the last numbers I read showed that somewhere around 70% of ED visits were for non-emergent conditions. Plus, ED visits are crazy high. I worry about enslaving the uninsured population with an ER bill that they will most likely never pay off! And, hospitals report the bad debt to the credit reporting agencies. The ramifications of empirically treating everything is much larger.” – Nurse Practitioner

Next: Watch out, Grey’s Anatomy.

It’s nothing like what you see on TV

A cast of 'Grey's Anatomy'.

Grey’s Anatomy.  | ABC

“The emergency department is nothing like Grey’s Anatomy or Code Black. It’s faster-paced and people do not hook up with each other in the hospital!” – BuzzFeed Community

“It’s like the Saw franchise. At first you’re excited for every day, then there’s lots of blood and screaming and crying and it’s terrifying. And there’s plenty of riddles, like, ‘What exactly did you shove up there?!'” – Buzzfeed Community

Next: An ER practitioner’s best tip

Honesty is always the best policy

Two patient waiting at a hospital.

Don’t keep any important details from your doctor. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

“There’s no reason to be embarrassed and trying to hide information may cause us to search for a problem that doesn’t exist or miss something very important … If you haven’t been taking your blood pressure medicine, tell us. If you used illicit drugs just before you started having trouble breathing, tell us. Likewise, if you’ve had the problem before, tell us.” – Melissa Barton, M.D.

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