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What Happens in the Emergency Department

A visit to the emergency department (ED) can be frightening and confusing, so we hope to make your visit as comfortable as possible. We want you to have the information you need, and we suggest you read the following information explaining the process. Please ask questions and let us know how we can make your experience better.

Upon Arrival

When you arrive and register in the ED, you will first see a specially trained triage nurse. The triage nurse may conduct a brief medical history and exam to determine the severity of your condition. Registration information will be taken by an admissions and registration counselor.

Depending on the seriousness of your injury or illness, you may be taken directly to a treatment area, or you may be asked to wait until a treatment area is available.

Wait Times

We must care for critical patients with life-threatening conditions first. If you have a minor illness or injury, you may have to wait while patients with more severe illness or injury are seen first. You may also experience a delay for the following reasons.

In the treatment area, your care team:

  • Needs to become familiar with your medical history.
  • Is trying to get in touch with your primary care physician.
  • Is waiting for the results of blood tests, X-rays, or specialized procedures.

If your condition changes, notify the triage nurse immediately.

Eating or Drinking

Ask our staff before you eat or drink anything. You may need a procedure or a test that requires an empty stomach.

Restroom Assistance

Restrooms are available for your use. If you need assistance, please ask our staff to escort you. BEFORE using the restroom, please ask a health care provider if a specimen is needed to assist in your diagnosis.

Home Medications/Allergies

Please provide an accurate list of home medications, allergies, or herbal supplements to your health care providers so that we can ensure your safety and prevent interactions with medications during your stay.

Cell Phones

Cell phones may be used while in the ED. Please be considerate of others by keeping volumes down when talking on the phone.

Personal Belongings

UPMC is not responsible for any personal belongings during your stay. Please have family take unnecessary belongings (including medications) home with them to prevent loss.

Special Needs

If you or a loved one has any special needs, please let our staff know so that we can get the appropriate personnel involved in your care.

In the treatment Area

Our physicians and nurses are specialists in emergency medicine. They will examine you and create a plan of care based on your individual treatment needs.

Diagnostic Tests

  • Laboratory tests and diagnostic procedures may be performed to help diagnose your condition. The average wait time for results is:
    • Blood work-1 to 2 hours, depending on what is ordered.
    • X-rays -1 hour
    • CAT scans and ultrasounds- 2 hours
  • Your emergency care provider must wait for all tests to be completed before determining your diagnosis.
  • When your laboratory work or imaging results are available, your medical care team will explain the findings. Occasionally, additional tests may be necessary.
  • Your treatment may take a few minutes or several hours, depending on your illness or injury and the presence of other critical patients.
  • Please ask your health care provider any questions about your test results.


We know how important it is for family and friends to be involved and support you in your care, but for safety and privacy, the number of visitors is kept to a minimum. Every effort is made to keep your loved ones informed of your condition and allow them to be with you when possible.


UPMC hospitals are tobacco-free facilities. To effectively care for your health care needs, we do not permit patients to leave the department to smoke.

Pain Management

We adhere to the following guidelines for opioid administration. Any exceptions to these guidelines are by physician discretion.

  • If a patient frequently visits the ED and seeks relief from nonobjective pain, they are considered to have chronic pain. For chronic pain, the ED does not prescribe or use Schedule II controlled substance, including:
    • Oxycodone and oxycodone combinations
    • Dilaudid
    • Fentanyl
    • Methadone
    • Morphine
    • Opana
  • Lost or stolen prescriptions for controlled substances will not be replaced
  • Letters from private physicians with pain management instructions will not be honored.
  • A list of local pain specialists will be made available to any interested patient.

Leaving Without Being Seen

Leaving the ED without being screened is a serious, perhaps life- threatening, decision. If you have been waiting a long time, you may feel tempted to leave the ED before you receive a medical screening examination by a physician or advanced care provider. Please speak with a health care provider first, so that we can fully inform you of any possible complications you may face.

At Discharge

  • The nurse will provide you with a copy of your discharge instructions and any prescriptions written for you and explain them to you.
  • The nurse will answer any questions about your care or treatment.
  • Please schedule appointments and notify your primary care providers of your visit to receive appropriate follow up treatment.
  • If a primary care provider is not available, we will be happy to refer you to one of our associated care providers.

Admission to Our Facility

If you need to be admitted to the hospital, please allow time for us to place you in the right bed the first time. There may be delays due to bed availability and hospital census. This may take a few minutes to several hours to complete.

Immediate Concerns

For any immediate concerns or needs, please ask for the administrator on duty or the customer relations representative. They will assist you promptly.

Our goal is to provide you with high-quality care and friendly service during your visit. In the next few days, you may receive a Patient Satisfaction Survey at home. Please complete the survey and let us know how we did. Your feedback helps us make improvements. 

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