Emergency Medicine Overview

NewYork-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center

Emergency Medicine

Common Questions About Your ED Stay


What is triage in an ED mean?

Triage is the process for sorting patients who come to the ER into groups based on their need for immediate medical treatment.

How long will I need to wait to be seen?

We try to the best of our ability to see everyone in a timely manner. Your wait time will depend on the seriousness of your illness or injury. Patients with serious or life-threatening illness are treated first, therefore, on occasion, you will see people get taken in for a bed before you.If the ED is busy, you may experience longer wait times.

We do have the benefit of placing some orders up-front for lab work, EKGs, and imaging. Due to hospital regulations, we cannot administer medications or place IVs until you are in a care area. However, rest assured that you are being observed, and we are doing our best to give everyone the care they need, when they need it.

Why is the ED so crowded? What does ED surge mean?

The number of patients requiring emergency department visits has been steadily increasing thereby making EDs more crowded. On a normal day, the volume of patients in our ED is heaviest between 11 am and 8 pm. An increase in volume may be seen on Mondays, the day after a holiday weekend, or during flu season (October to April). If the entire hospital is near full occupancy, we use the term “surge,” which means we are using specific strategies to streamline patient flow by opening new areas of the hospital to see patients and discharging patients as soon as medically advisable to accommodate newly admitted patients.

Why am I seated in a chair?

On occasion patients are seated in chairs for evaluation in a location referred to as the “vertical area.” The triage team makes this decision so that the ED can accommodate as many patients as possible. Patients are selected for the vertical area based on a number of factors, including acuity (severity of a patient’s illness), risk of falling, and the number and type of tests that are predicted to be needed for the patient. Patients may also be seated in chairs although beds are available. If you were seated in a chair and don’t feel well, please talk to your nurse or care provider about moving to a bed.

eir vital signs (heart rate, rhythm, blood pressure and oxygen level). If your care team determines you need your vital signs closely monitored, you will be placed in one of these rooms.

Can a family member stay with me?

Yes. One support person or family member per patient is allowed in the clinical area. We ask that everyone abide by this visitor policy to ensure patient and staff safety. If needed, we also ask you to choose one family member to act as the liaison between the care team and other family members to streamline communications.

In case of major emergencies, such as trauma or cardiac arrest, your support person or family member may be asked to temporarily wait in the lobby. We also ask that visitors wait in the lobby during transitions of care by our staff.

When I am in the ED, should I continue to take the medications that I take at home?

If you are due to take a medication that you take at home, please alert a nurse or doctor so they can either order the same medication or advise you on whether it is still appropriate in your current condition. While it is always best to take your medications at the scheduled times, your care team can advise you related to delaying or skipping a dose. If you have any questions at all about whether or not you need to take your medication, please ask a member of your care team.

Can I eat or drink?

Typically, we advise patients wait to eat until they are “cleared” to eat or drink by their care team. We do not want a full stomach to delay procedures or impact test results. As a general rule, if you are in the ED for abdominal pain, are having difficulty swallowing, are confused, or are getting an imaging study, it is best not to eat or drink until you are given permission to do so.

How long do blood tests take?

Blood work sent to the lab can take two to three hours to result, and some specialized tests will take longer.

How long will it take to have a CT or X-ray?

Depending on the number of patients waiting, obtaining your imaging study can take two to three hours. After the images are taken, it may be another 60 to 90 minutes for the radiologist to read your images.

Why do MRIs take so long?

MRIs can take from 6 to 12 hours for the study to be performed and read. They are an important but limited resource in the hospital setting. If your MRI is urgent your care team will expedite the request. For non-urgent studies, there may be delays as the MRI suite is coordinating the studies for the entire hospital, and in some situations, you may be recommended to have it performed as an outpatient. We appreciate your understanding.

How long will I need to wait for a consult?

Depending on the seriousness of your condition, the time to consult is variable. If your situation is imminently life-threatening expect the consult at the bedside as soon as possible. Otherwise, you should expect to wait one to two hours for the consult to take place and an additional two to four hours for recommendations to be made. This delay is often related to waiting for all lab work and imaging results to come in and a discussion of a plan of care with the supervising physician.

If I recently had blood tests performed before coming to the ED, do I need blood work again?

If you were seen at a NewYork-Presbyterian affiliate, we are able to access your results. In addition, certain hospital systems and urgent care clinics are now offering patients smartphone applications that will host your results. If you have access to your most recent results, your care team will definitely want to see them. Alternatively, if those test results are critically needed for decision-making, we will reach out to your doctor’s office.

What happens if I need to be admitted to the hospital?

If you need to be admitted to the hospital your care is transitioned to an inpatient team. The ED nurses continue to carry out your admission orders while you wait to be transported to an inpatient unit.

If I am already admitted, when will I go to an inpatient unit?

It is difficult to predict how long you will remain in the ER before going to a bed on an inpatient unit. It depends on a number of factors, including bed availability on the particular unit you need, how many patients need to be admitted on that day, and the number of discharges. The ED works very closely with the hospital’s Patient Placement Operations Center to facilitate the transfer of patients from the ED to an inpatient unit.

When delays occur, patients will remain in the ED and continue to be attended to by ED staff as well as your inpatient team.

As a patient in the ED at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, why am I being transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center?

On occasion, patients seen at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital may need to be transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell for services that are not provided at the NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan campus. NewYork-Presbyterian has a seamless process to transfer patients and health care teams at both campuses are in continuous contact. In addition, all hospital campuses use the same electronic medical record system. There is no additional cost to you for this transfer.

What are my next steps if I do not need to be admitted to the hospital?

We always recommend that at a minimum you see your primary care doctor within one to two weeks of an emergency visit. Primary care doctors or family medicine doctors play a central role in your overall health care. These doctors and their teams help patients navigate all of their health concerns and, if needed, arrange for additional consultations or studies.