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Emergency Services
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Frequently Asked Questions

1.   When should I visit the emergency department?
2.   Would it be better to visit my family doctor?

1. When should I visit the emergency department?

You should visit the emergency department if you feel you have a serious medical problem and are unable to see your family doctor quickly. Examples of medical conditions that need immediate medical treatment include:
  • Pain in your chest, arm, or jaw
  • Breathing problems
  • Weakness or dizziness that does not get better
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Sudden confusion
  • Unusual severe headache
  • Frequent vomiting and diarrhea and/or severe belly pain
  • Injury to your head (especially if you lost consciousness, fainted, or became confused)
  • Injury to your neck or spine (especially with loss of feeling or motion in a part of your body) Do not move a person with this problem unless it is a life and death situation, eg, fire, drowning.
  • Large cut or wound (with or without severe bleeding)
  • Injury to a joint or limb with loss of use, swelling, and severe pain
  • Serious burns or breathing  of smoke or other poisonous fumes
  • Severe allergic reactions from insect bites, food or medications
  • High fever that cannot be controlled or any fever if you are receiving cancer medications
  • Sudden high fever with neck stiffness and headache
  • Poisoning or drug/alcohol overdose
  • Suicidal thoughts

Common minor illnesses can be a problem for some people such as young children and the elderly. If you have a medical problem such as lung disease, heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, cancer or liver disease, you may need to seek medical attention in the emergency department to prevent your condition from getting worse.

You may also need to visit the emergency department if you are asked to return for a check-up from an earlier visit or to have a treatment or procedure done, such as receiving intravenous medications.

If you are not sure that your condition is serious enough to visit the emergency department, you can call the Newfoundland and Labrador HealthLine (1-888-709-2929) and speak to a registered nurse for advice at any time of the day. 

2. Would it be better to visit my family doctor?
If your illness is not an emergency, it may be better to visit your family doctor. Your family doctor knows you and your medical history and can provide follow-up care, such as looking at the results of blood tests and making sure that you are taking the right medications.
For more information on family physicians available in your area, please visit the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador at
3. What can I expect when I visit the emergency department?
When you arrive at the emergency department, you will be registered and seen by a registered nurse who is skilled in triage. Eastern Health uses the Canadian Emergency Department Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) as a triage system to prioritize patient care by the severity of their condition or illness. The CTAS system ensures that the sickest patients are taken care of first. There are five CTAS levels patients can be assigned, Level I being the highest acuity and Level 5 being the least.
The nurse will assess your condition by asking about the reason you came to the emergency department, your allergies, past and present medical conditions and the medications your take. The nurse will check your temperature, pulse and blood pressure and provide immediate care when necessary.

Based on the triage nurse’s assessment of your condition, you will be assigned a triage code that helps the doctors and nurses determine when you will be moved to a treatment room in the emergency department and when you will be seen by a doctor. 

After you have seen the triage nurse, depending upon your triage code and what else is happening in the emergency department, you may be taken immediately to a treatment room or asked to wait in the waiting room. 

When you are brought into a treatment area in the emergency department, you will receive a more thorough assessment of your condition. The physician or nurse practitioner will discuss your treatment options and make any follow-up arrangements and referrals as necessary. You may also be referred to a specialist who will decide if you need to be admitted to the hospital.

4. Why do patients have to wait to be seen in the emergency department?
Sometimes patients have to wait to be seen when they visit the emergency department. Sicker patients already in the emergency department or sicker patients that arrive while you are waiting must receive care first. The length of time you wait is also affected by the number of patients who are in the emergency room and the availability of a doctor to see you.
While waiting, if you have questions or you feel your condition has become worse, please let the triage nurse or a registered nurse know right away.  

If you decide that the wait is too long and are planning to leave, please let the nurse know that you are leaving. 

5. What should I bring with me when I visit the emergency department?
You should bring the following with you when you visit the emergency department:
  • Your Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan (MCP) card.
  • Your hospital card – this is a coloured card you may have from previous visits. If you do not have this card you can get it when you visit.
  • An up-to-date list of the medications or the bottles containing your medications (medications prescribed by your doctor or other medications such as vitamins that you take regularly).
  • Any records that you may have concerning your health.
  • Personal medical equipment that you may need while you are in the emergency department.

6. Can my family accompany me to the emergency department?
We encourage you to bring one family member who can provide you with support and assist you if necessary. Family members may be asked to wait in the waiting room for short periods.

7. When can I go home?
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you can go home. The doctor or the nurse will give you instructions on how to care for yourself at home. Make sure you understand these instructions and ask questions if needed.
8. What if I need to be transferred to another hospital?
We may not be able to provide you with all the care you need at every site within Eastern Health. You may need to be transferred to another hospital if:
  • You need the services of a specialist or other health professionals located at another hospital
  • You need tests that are not available at the first hospital
  • There is a bed available for admission
You will be transferred using the most appropriate means such as road ambulance, air ambulance or family car. If required, you will be accompanied by emergency department personnel or paramedics. There is no charge for ambulance services when you are transferred to another hospital.
9. What happens if I am admitted to the hospital?
If the doctor tells you that you need to stay in the hospital, you will be transferred to a bed in another part of the hospital when there is a bed ready for you. If a bed is not available right away, we will care for you in the emergency department. In order to provide the best care for you and other emergency department patients, we may have to move you to different areas within the emergency department.


Updated May 7, 2013