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What to Expect

Emergency? Call 911 or your local ambulance service.

Coming to the emergency department can be an anxious and confusing time. Here's a quick rundown of what you can expect during your visit.

Three Important Steps

  1. Triage: Upon arrival, the patient is seen by a triage nurse who prioritizes care needs based on symptoms being experienced and how sick or injured the patient is.
  2. Registration: A registration clerk takes information about the patient (age, religion, etc.), insurance coverage, and their current physicians. A financial counselor may also be present to discuss insurance coverage. After registration, patients are brought back to a room in the treatment area.
  3. Medical Care: Every patient is assigned a "zone" nurse, but it's likely the patient will be seen by more than one physician, nurse, and patient care staff member during their stay. A specially trained emergency physician is on duty all the time to care for patients. He or she will stop in and conduct an examination. A resident physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner may also see the patient. They will work with the attending physician to help determine a treatment plan. Blood and x-ray tests may be performed.


  • After the evaluation, our physicians always discuss treatment plans with the patient (if the patient is alert). We also forward all information to the patient's primary care physician.
  • For some common illnesses, we order "lab work" before the patient sees a physician. This helps the physician make medical decisions and start needed treatment more quickly.
  • If a patient requires a short period of observation and treatment, he or she may be moved to an observation bed. This can last several hours, with treatment provided by physicians and nurses.
  • If a patient has to be admitted to the hospital, the physician discusses the details with the patient and family. The patient's primary care physician is notified. If the patient doesn't have a doctor, or the doctor isn't affiliated with Highland Hospital, an on-call doctor on our staff is assigned.

Prioritizing Patient Care

  • If you notice that other people are being seen before you, it's because we need to treat the sickest patients first.
  • If you think you've been overlooked, please ask someone for help. We will update you as often as possible.
  • If you think your condition is worsening and you need to be seen right away, ask to be checked by a nurse.

Who's Who?

You'll meet many different members of our medical team in the emergency department. Each person plays an important role in helping our patients at such a critical time.

The Role of Physicians

The attending physician—the senior physician in charge of all patient care in the Emergency Department—might be involved in a patient's care. But if you have any questions or concerns, generally your physician or "zone" nurse is in the best position to help you.

If the patient sees a primary care physician or specialist, we'd like to know. We might want to contact the doctors to help us provide the very best care.

If required, we may also call in a specialist to see you during your visit.

Social Workers

Our staff social workers are available to help patients with a variety of issues and concerns. So, please let us know how we can help.

Intensive Care Unit

Sometimes the goal of emergency treatment is simply to stabilize a seriously ill or injured person. The patient may then be moved to Highland Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for ongoing critical care.

Anything Else?

Here are some other things to think about concerning a stay in the emergency room:

  • Pain: Treating pain is important to both patients and our staff. If you feel your pain is not being adequately treated, please let your physician or nurses know.
  • Valuables: We ask that any valuables be given to a friend or family member for safe-keeping. If no one is available to watch out for valuables, our staff will arrange for secure storage.
  • Visitor Information
  • Food: Patients shouldn't expect to eat or drink anything while in the emergency department, because it may interfere with care. For visitors, there are vending machines in the waiting area as well as a cafeteria on the first floor of the hospital.
  • Medical students: We're also a teaching hospital, so residents, medical students and nursing students work with us. They may be on hand to observe, or participate in, our staff's activities.

Going Home

If you are allowed to go home after treatment, written discharge instructions will be provided. Follow-up recommendations from a member of our staff or a specialist will be noted on the form.

Once home, if symptoms worsen or change, the patient should contact their primary care physician—or return to the Emergency Department.