The Function of an Emergency Department

Dr Gerry McCarthy, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at CUH and Clinical Lead National Emergency Medicine Program

The core function of an Emergency Department (ED) is to provide unhindered access for people who develop a sudden apparently serious change in their health, whatever the cause, to appropriately trained staff, space and equipment.  Such undifferentiated, but potentially life, organ or limb-threatening situations require simultaneous assessment and resuscitation of the patient, ensuring that appropriate time-critical treatment is administered while judiciously holding off on unnecessary treatments if they are not immediately required.  Typical presentations include possible heart attack, stroke, severe breathlessness, collapse and major trauma.

Emergency Medicine and EDs have often been described, appropriately, as the “safety net” of the healthcare system.  This means we “catch you when you fall” from your usual healthcare options, because of a possible emergency, with the aim of diagnosing and treating the emergency, to allow you return to your usual healthcare providers.  The ED should not be used for a “second opinion” and does not have any function in the management of waiting lists for outpatient clinics or other scheduled treatments.  

It is not surprising that people often attend with a presumed emergency that turns out to be less serious than it first appeared to be.  We apply the process of triage, where specifically trained and experienced  staff use a well validated system to define the level of urgency of the need for clinical intervention in relation to your emergency.  That is why it sometimes appears that people who arrived after you are called before you.  However, if you have a concern, there is always a staff member available to assist you.

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