Emergencies are unpredictable, but knowing what to expect when you visit the emergency room (ER) can provide a sense of reassurance during a stressful time.  Furthermore, being prepared will improve the experience and the outcome of your ER visit. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the typical journey of a patient during an emergency room visit.

Registration and Paperwork

Before your medical evaluation, you’ll be asked to complete the necessary registration paperwork, which usually focuses on demographic information and consent to receive treatment.  Most medical information is collected by the clinical team. 

It’s important to provide the most accurate information possible, as this information aids the medical team in delivering the most effective and safe care.  Therefore, keeping with you a current list of your medicines, the name and contact information of your doctors, insurance information, and a brief medical history can be very helpful.  Storing this in your smartphone is a great option!

This may seem like an unnecessary delay during an emergency, and certainly, if your emergency is immediate, this step can be completed later.  But given the highly interconnected and computer-based flow of information that occurs during your visit, the sooner your demographic information can be obtained, the smoother your care will be.


At many ER’s where patients usually have a wait to be seen, the next step is the triage process.  Triage refers to the determination of the order in which different emergencies should be evaluated and treated by the clinical team.  A trained nurse or doctor will assess the nature and severity of each patient’s condition to determine the order in which patients are seen. This initial assessment helps prioritize those in need of immediate attention. During this time, the nurse will ask you questions about your condition as well as take readings for blood pressure, height, and weight.

At CapRock, we are fortunate to almost never need to triage patients because there is no wait time.  Our patients are almost always taken immediately to a treatment room by a nurse, where evaluation and treatment begins right away.  

Medical Evaluation

After triage, a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, will conduct a thorough medical evaluation. Be prepared to answer questions about your symptoms, when they started, and any events leading up to your visit.  This information is usually the most critical factor in your doctor’s ability to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.  Again, since emergency room visits are never planned, it is helpful to keep with you some notes about your prior diagnoses, current medical problems, current medications, and contact information for your doctors.

At CapRock Hospital and Emergency Room, your evaluation is always performed only by a board-certified and experienced Emergency Medicine Doctor within minutes of arrival – providing the best opportunity to diagnose and start treatment as soon as possible.  Furthermore, we recognize the critical importance of doctors having adequate time to carefully gather the necessary information and discuss with their patients any results, their diagnoses, and treatment plans.  Protecting our doctors’ time at your bedside is of the highest priority.

Diagnostic Tests and Procedures

Depending on the nature of your condition, the medical team may order diagnostic tests such as X-rays, blood work, or other imaging scans. These tests can help identify the cause of your symptoms and guide the appropriate treatment plan.

It is important to remember that many conditions do not require diagnostic testing beyond the physician’s conclusions based on their thorough history and physical exam.  In the same way that attorneys and accountants provide advice without lab testing or imaging, physicians often don’t need additional test results beyond a careful conversation and physical examination to accurately diagnose and treat many conditions.  In fact, in many cases, if a diagnosis and needed treatment plan is clear after the history and physician exam, testing can actually be misleading, as all testing has some rate of false negatives or false positives.

Treatment and Intervention

After the evaluation and diagnostic phase, the medical team will discuss their working diagnosis and the recommended treatment options with you before proceeding with treatment. This may include medications, minor procedures, or more advanced interventions.  

Importantly, the job of the emergency department is not to diagnose or treat every condition, but rather to identify and stabilize any emergencies, diagnose and treat what can be identified in the ER, then help you get to the next step for conditions that remain undiagnosed or incompletely treated.  Sometimes, this requires admission to the hospital.  Other times, it requires being evaluated by your primary care doctor or an outside specialist or being sent elsewhere for specific testing or consultation. 

For diagnosed conditions, the doctor will recommend treatment options and discuss with you the benefits and risks of each option.

Observation or Admission

Following treatment, the medical team will decide whether you can be safely discharged or if further observation or hospital admission is necessary. If admitted, you’ll be provided with information about your stay, treatment plan, and any necessary follow-up care.

Discharge and Follow-Up

If your condition allows, you’ll be discharged with instructions for at-home care and will be provided any necessary prescriptions. You will be guided to the appropriate follow-up doctors or testing.  It’s crucial to follow these guidelines and attend any follow-up appointments with your primary care physician or specialist to ensure a smooth recovery.

Most critically, no ER evaluation should be considered definitive.  Emergency care is naturally challenging and there are innumerable variables that make each case unique.  Therefore, there is a delicate balance between a doctor recommending too much evaluation or treatment versus too little evaluation or treatment.  Therefore, it is never wrong to return to the ER for any degree of concern or confusion about your situation!  This provides an additional opportunity to identify anything that might have been missed.


Emergencies can be overwhelming, but understanding the process of an emergency room visit can help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with the unknown. Remember that the ER is equipped to handle a wide range of medical issues, and the dedicated healthcare professionals are there to provide the best possible care during your time of need. In case of an emergency, don’t hesitate to give us a call and visit one of our locations open 24/7. Your health and well-being are the top priorities in the emergency room.