ER Wait Time: 12 minutes | If you are having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1.


It’s a subject many people don’t think much about before an injury or illness hits. When should I go to the ER? Having some knowledge of what Emergency Departments and Urgent Clinics can do for you can save you time and in some cases, a lot of money.

While it seems an issue of common sense, things can be anything but common when a crisis arises. According to the American Academy of Emergency Physicians, the following is a list of bona fide medical emergencies:

• Chest pain or upper abdominal pain that lasts at least two minutes

• Uncontrolled bleeding

• Sudden or severe pain

• Coughing or vomiting blood

• Broken bones

• Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath

• Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision

• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea

• Change in mental status such as confusion

• Difficulty speaking

• Unusual abdominal pain

• Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

• Changes in vision

• High fever or flu-like symptoms (a patient with severe flu may require hospitalization)

• Allergic reactions (some are severe and may be life-threatening)

• Animal bites (these can be significant in some cases).

There may be judgment calls – even with this list. A call to your doctor, or nearest Emergency Room might save time and money and get you the specific type of care you need. There are big differences between Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centers.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, Urgent Care Centers, regardless of their moniker, treat minor or acutely rising medical conditions that patients feel require immediate medical attention. Non-urgent conditions can generally wait for treatment during scheduled appointments in a primary care office setting. Conditions such as:

• Sprains in ankles and other joints

• Ear infections

• Minor burns or injuries

• Coughs, colds, sore throats

• Temperatures over 101.5 (severity of the fever is not always indicative of the severity of the infection).

Time is often the essence in emergency medical situations. If the injury or illness is serious, getting to help sooner is much better than later. With non life-threatening situations, most of us just want to ease the pain and suffering of loved ones.

Remember to always have a list of emergency numbers accessible. The list includes your doctor, nearest hospital, fire department and police department ambulance service and other numbers of professionals we might need in any given set of circumstances.

Because time is so important in emergency situations, remember to take some time and make a list of emergency numbers that are easy to access. This list should include your doctor, nearest hospital, and an emergency contact person. It’s also a good idea to know where the closest Emergency Room and Urgent Care Centers are to you. Update this list every year. Things change. Make sure your chosen facilities still provide the types of services needed. Some are trauma centers while others are not. Also be sure to add these contacts to your “in case of emergency” contact in your wireless phones (ICE). This will provide emergency personnel important information if you are unable to speak.

Build a relationship with your primary care doctor, who knows you and your health history. It’s important, especially in those moments when you need help making decisions about where to get the most appropriate help. Be safe and be prepared.

— The Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Medical Center can be reached at 816-655-5450.