The triage nurse is the first person whom patients see in the emergency department. The nurse's role is to inquire about symptoms; take blood pressure, temperature and pulse; and record a short medical history of the illness or injury. If there is immediate bed availability in the emergency department, the patient may be placed promptly.

The triage process determines when and how patients receive treatment in the emergency department to ensure that patients with the most serious needs are treated first. Triage classifies patients according to need, as follows:

  • Emergent - those who have a life-threatening illness or injury
  • Urgent - those who are in stable condition, but need help as soon as possible
  • Non-urgent - those who have minor problems or chronic complaints

A patient whose condition is deemed non-urgent may be required to wait to be seen, for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Other patients require immediate treatment
  • Beds or treatment rooms need to be prepared
  • Ambulances bring in more critical patients

The triage nurse and/or volunteer staff are there to assist and to answer questions or concerns, and should be made aware of new or worsening symptoms.


After triage, the patient is seen by an emergency medicine doctor unless his or her doctor has made specific arrangements to come to the emergency department. Depending on the symptoms, patients may be treated immediately, sent to registration or asked to wait in the lobby until they can be registered.

Family and friends who bring a patient to emergency department may be separated from the patient, particularly if he or she urgently needs treatment or laboratory tests; or if other patients who are seriously ill arrive and visitors are asked to return to the waiting area.

In emergency care, treatment and test results take time. After treatment, a patient may be asked to take additional tests and then return for further treatment; be admitted to the hospital; or discharged with written instructions for post-emergency care, which may include a follow-up with a primary care practitioner or specialist.

What to Bring

An Access Representative will request billing information such as the patient’s address and phone number, and type of health insurance. If possible, having ID and insurance cards available is helpful.


Patients receiving care in the emergency department receive at least two bills, depending on their health insurance and the number of different services provided. The emergency department bill is separate from the doctor's bill and the radiology bill (if imaging is involved). No one is turned away from the emergency department due to inability to pay for care.