Frequently Asked Questions About Emergency Services

Common questions and answers about emergency services.

Below, find answers to some frequently asked questions about emergency care.

When should I go to urgent care?
According to state figures, one in three visits to the emergency room in San Diego County is for a nonemergency situation. Many of these people could have instead used an urgent care center. In San Diego, the average waiting time at an urgent care center is less than 30 minutes, compared to an average of 4 hours at local emergency departments.

Urgent care centers are staffed by qualified physicians and nurses. Most centers are open on evenings, weekends and holidays, when your doctor's office may be closed.

Urgent care is often recommended for conditions and symptoms such as:

  • Burns
  • Colds, cough or flu
  • Eye, ear or skin infections
  • Fractures
  • Minor cuts, bruises and abrasions
  • Respiratory infections
  • Strains or sprains
  • Urinary tract infections

There are a few things you can do to prepare in case of an emergency:

  • Call ahead
    The physicians and nurses on staff may be able to help you over the phone and save you a trip.
  • If in doubt, call 911
    If you or a loved one have a life- or limb-threatening ailment, always call 911. If you are unsure of what level of care you need, please call your primary care physician.
  • Know your options
    Find out which urgent care centers in your area are covered by your insurance and write down the address and phone number of the covered location nearest you.

Urgent Care at Sharp
Sharp has a network of urgent care centers throughout San Diego for medical problems that are urgent but not life-threatening. For locations and additional information about urgent care at Sharp, please visit Urgent Care Centers.

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What is triage?
Triage is the process of sorting individuals into groups based on their needs. Upon arrival in the emergency department, a registered nurse will ask questions about the patient’s illness, injury or medical history and will perform a brief exam to determine the severity of the condition. The physician will see patients with the most critical conditions first.

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What happens after checking in?
The admitting staff will ask for additional information to complete a patient record. The triage nurse may begin treatment and provide for comfort by offering bandages, ice or certain medications. Certain X-rays can also be ordered at this time.

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Can patients eat or drink anything while waiting to be seen?
Patients should not eat or drink anything until a physician or nurse has given approval.

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Why is there a wait to be seen?
Emergency departments are busy places with peak hours ranging from 11 am to 11 pm. Weekends, holidays and after normal working hours also tend to have increased traffic when doctors’ offices are closed. The emergency room staff works very hard to ensure all patients are seen in a timely manner and wait times are kept to a minimum.

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What happens after being taken to a bed?
A nurse will continue with a bedside exam to obtain a more complete history about the reason for visit. After the physician examines the patient, additional tests or treatment may be ordered, which may lengthen the patient's stay in the emergency department. Based on the test results and the patient’s current condition, the physician will make a decision to either discharge or admit. The patient’s primary care physician may be called to assist in this decision.

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Do patients have to wait for a bed once admitted to the hospital?
Wait times depend on the number of available beds and the type of bed the physician has requested.

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Are visitors allowed in the emergency room?
Visitors are welcome at the hospital depending on the patient’s condition as well as the policies of each emergency department. Pastoral care is available to support and comfort you and your family.

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Are children allowed in the emergency department?
If you have small children with you, please do not allow them to play near cars or ambulances. All children must stay with an adult.

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What about pain relief while in the emergency department?
Each person feels and tolerates pain differently. Pain that does not go away can be a sign of trouble; please notify a nurse if this is the case. Infants and younger children may show pain by frowning, crying or fussing and with tense arms and legs.

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Where can patients or visitors provide feedback?
If there is anything that we can do for you or your family at any time while you are with us, please let us know. We strive to provide excellent care to every patient we meet. Your feedback is essential to ensure that we continue to provide the highest quality care and support for your family.

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What about follow-up care?
Examination and treatment in the emergency department is on an emergency basis only and does not substitute for definitive and ongoing evaluation and medical care. Instructions for follow-up care will be provided. It is essential to make arrangements for follow-up care as instructed. Report any new or remaining problems at that time since it is impossible to recognize and treat all elements of injury or disease in a single emergency room visit. The emergency department will generally provide a list of physicians or clinics in the area that can give follow-up treatment to those who do not have a primary care physician already selected.

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What is trauma?
Trauma is defined as a life-threatening physical injury caused by an external force such as a motor vehicle crash, violence or fall. If trauma patients receive appropriate care during the “golden hour” — within 60 minutes after injury — chances of survival increase considerably.

Trauma centers specialize in the treatment of patients with acute and life-threatening traumatic injuries. In order to be a county-designated trauma center, an emergency department must provide a specific team of surgeons, physicians and nurses who are trained to properly care for a patient’s immediate needs.

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What is the San Diego Trauma System?
The San Diego Trauma System comprises six trauma centers, including Sharp Memorial Hospital, that work with the County Division of Emergency Medical Services to provide organized care to patients. The system includes dispatch centers, ambulance providers, fire districts, helicopter transport services and emergency department nurses and physicians.

Since its establishment in 1984, the San Diego Trauma System has become renowned as one of the best in the country. In 1982, the preventable death rate in the county was 21 percent — today it has dropped to less than 1 percent. In San Diego, a trauma patient has twice the chance of surviving an injury as someone in another part of the United States.

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What is being done in San Diego to prevent trauma?
In order to further the efforts of trauma prevention, the San Diego Trauma System created the not-for-profit Trauma Research and Education Foundation (TREF) in 1983. With a mission to reduce the number of trauma-related deaths and injuries in San Diego County, TREF provides education to physicians and nurses, as well as the community.

One initiative by TREF is the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN). CIREN reviews motor vehicle crashes in order to save lives, treat and prevent serious injuries. With help from the County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), CIREN provides real-time pre-hospital patient information as well as real-time resource status of emergency departments and trauma centers throughout the county. Information gathered from CIREN is crucial in decision making regarding the site a patient is sent to.

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Are there any intervention programs in San Diego?
Another worthwhile effort by the San Diego community is the Trauma Intervention Programs of San Diego County (TIPS), founded in 1985. TIPS, another nationally acclaimed program, recruits citizen volunteers to respond to emergency situations and provide significant emotional support to trauma victims. 

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Find a San Diego Doctor
To find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday 8 am to 6 pm.