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The level of urgency in your emergency


We all know someone who has been to the Emergency Department of a hospital at one time or another. And inevitably, at some point, someone else comes in and gets bumped ahead of them.

How dare they put someone ahead of me!
I’ve been waiting longer than they have.

The reality is some illnesses require more urgent attention than others.

The Ottawa Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) team works to provide quality care as quickly as possible. The most seriously ill patients are seen first even though they may come into the department after other patients. This is why the triage nurse assesses everyone as soon as possible after they arrive.

The nurses are skilled in triage, which is a system used to make sure the sickest patients are taken care of right away. The nurse will assess your condition as quickly as possible by talking to you about the reasons that you came for emergency care, your allergies and the medication that you take. If necessary, the nurse will check your temperature, pulse and blood pressure and provide immediate care. Once you have seen the triage nurse, you may be taken immediately into the department, or asked to register and wait in the waiting room. This triage system allows patients to be seen according to the severity of their illness.

The Ottawa Hospital has two full Emergency Departments, located at the Civic and General Campuses. Each of the Emergency Departments sees between 200 and 225 patients per day, and both are very busy.

It’s important to note that both Emergency Departments have separate entrances for the arrival of ambulances, so although it may not look busy in the waiting room, it doesn’t mean the ED is quiet.

When visiting the Emergency Department, you can expect to be taken through the following steps, depending on your health-care needs.

The level of urgency in your emergency

Emergency-department wait times measure the total time spent during your entire visit and not the amount of time you wait to see a health-care provider. Your visit is measured from your arrival until the point at which you are sent home, or admitted as an inpatient.

Of the 145 emergency departments across Ontario, only 11 are teaching hospitals like The Ottawa Hospital (TOH). Many of the emergency departments in community hospitals see fewer acutely ill patients compared to TOH. When patients are acutely ill in the Champlain health region, they are most often referred to TOH. For this reason, you may observe a patient with more urgent needs being seen before you. I assure you that the ED team is doing everything it can to provide you with the highest quality of care in as short a period of time as possible.

We appreciate your patience, if you are required to wait. While waiting, if you have any questions, or you feel your condition has become worse, please let the triage nurse know right away.

Denise Picard-Stencer
Clinical Director
Critical Care, Emergency Department, Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program (SAPACP)


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This website gives you common facts, advice and tips. Some of it may not apply to you. Please talk to your doctor, nurse or other health-care team member to see if this information will work for you. They can also answer your questions and concerns.