What emergency room doctors do

An emergency room doctor assesses and treats individuals who require immediate medical attention. An ER doctor must make quick decisions about taking medical actions like relieving pain of individuals with chronic conditions, diagnosing and treating sports injuries, treating a patient exposed to poisons or toxins, assessing and treating individuals involved in trauma and treating children and infants. An emergency room doctor can resuscitate patients, give cardiac support, deliver babies, treat airway problems and admit individuals to the hospital, as well as provide disaster relief. The main goal of an emergency room doctor is to prevent death and disability.

An emergency room doctor works with a team of medical technicians and nurses to diagnose patients and help make them as comfortable as possible. Emergency room doctors can specialize in sports medicine, pediatric medicine, medical toxicology, undersea and hyperbaric medicine, and EMS.

Patients needing emergency care are triaged, which means that a triage nurse takes their vitals so that individuals are seen in order of severity. Paramedics are also a large part of this field. A paramedic helps stabilize patients and transport them in an ambulance to an emergency room.

Training in emergency medicine

An emergency physician has earned either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Working in emergency medicine requires taking a three-year residency during which the doctor rotates through and learns medical specialties that may include anesthesia, plastic surgery, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, ENT (ear, nose and throat), psychiatry, toxicology, rheumotology, pediatrics and cardiotheatrics.

To obtain more experience after completing a residency, a prospective ER doctor may also pursue a fellowship in pediatrics, internal medicine, toxicology, emergency medicine or sports medicine, which may take one or two years. Before emergency doctors can practice medicine on their own, they must pass a board examination that needs to be renewed as the individual continues to work as a doctor.

Immediate care services

Patient advocates and insurance companies advise consumers to use urgent care or immediate care centers, for nonlife threatening emergencies if their primary care physician is off duty. Urgent care service centers are open in the evening and on weekends and they often charge less than hospital emergency rooms.

Read more in the Angie's List Guide to Immediate Care Services

When to go to the ER

Determining whether your medical situation requires emergency medical care can be difficult to know. For children and seniors, it is best to err on the side of caution because medical problems worsen quickly in these individuals. If your child has a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit and seems lethargic or is acting unusual, head to the ER for evaluation. Sudden, severe pain is also a sign that you need immediate medical attention. Severe pain in the chest, for example, may signal a heart attack. Heading to the emergency room quickly can help improve your chances for recovery. Experiencing numbness on one side of the body may signal a stroke, which requires immediate medical attention.

Head to the ER if you have been involved in an accident. Even if you don't feel ill, it is important to have a doctor check you out. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma and can't control your symptoms, you should seek emergency treatment.

According to a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans make approximately 120 million trips to the emergency room each year, but only about one third were classified as urgent. If you're unsure whether you need emergency care, call your doctor or a state nursing line. Remember that physicians see patients in the ER in order of the severity of their condition. If you don't know whether your condition requires emergency care, call or head to the hospital for assessment. For symptoms that aren't life threatening but require urgent treatment, look for an urgent care center.

Ambulance services

Not all ambulance services are operated by cities or municipalities. Some are run by private companies, which may mean a higher out-of-pocket expense for you. However, all will provide immediate treatment at the scene of an injury or accident and during transportation to a hospital emergency room.

Read more in the Angie's List Guide to Ambulance Services

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