Why do I have to wait?

At an emergency department, patients are seen in the order of urgency. This is not the same as the order of arrival.

Patients arrive at the emergency department on their own or by ambulance. Note that the way a patient has been transported to the emergency department says little about the urgency of their problem and how long they may have to wait.

The assessment of the urgency of treatment made on arrival is done to determine the order in which the patients are seen, without risking patient safety.

The level of urgency of a patient’s problem may change while they wait. The queueing situation may change rapidly and estimating the waiting time can be very difficult for even the most experienced of nurses. If your condition changes while you wait, inform the staff, especially if the waiting time is proving very long.

It is the nature of the emergency department that situations change rapidly. An emergency patient may suddenly take up much of the resources, which means that those with less serious conditions will have to wait.

Emergency departments tend to get very busy during epidemics, such as the influenza season and the first frost in the autumn when roads become slippery. The more patients there are in the emergency department, the longer the wait, because there can only be a limited number of staff on each shift. Waiting for laboratory or x-ray results may also take some time. This waiting time is something that the staff has no control over.

Time is too slow for those who wait. The staff will do their best to keep patients informed about the next steps in treatment. The patients can also be proactive and ask for any instructions concerning their health issue and read information and guides available. It is important to appreciate that while the waiting times at the emergency department can be long, the staff are doing their best to provide all patients with safe, high-quality care. The condition of the patients is monitored even if the patient is not necessarily aware of this.

There is no single order that the examinations, tests and procedures follow, and each visit can be a bit different. Each illness and injury requires a different care path, and each individual care process is made up of different elements. Sometimes establishing the cause of a problem and treating it may take more steps than at another time. This means you may have to spend a bit longer at the emergency department than usual.

Follow Mikko at the emergency department

Mikko sits in the lobby and looks around. He can hear a baby crying quietly, and an old man is leaning against a wall with his eyes closed, sighing heavily. The nurse approaches the man and asks how he is coping. Soon the nurse walks the patient around the corner to a room marked “monitoring"..

Mikko glances at his watch. His pain is getting worse. It’s been nearly an hour since the laboratory samples were taken. Mikko remembers that the lab assistant said the results would probably be ready in two hours. Mikko stops a nurse walking down the corridor and says he is feeling worse.

The nurse takes Mikko to another room and shows him a bed where he can lie down. The nurse promises to check when the results will be ready. The nurse comes back after a while with some pain medication, telling Mikko that some results are not ready yet. Mikko takes the painkillers and continues to wait.

The nurse says that the queue should soon speed up when the doctors on the night shift start work. There has been an accident on the motorway with a number of casualties, which has tied up much of the resources until then.

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Updated  8.6.2020