Some people have never been to the Emergency Department (ED) and some go every time something happens to them or their loved ones. The truth is, it can be hard to know what to do in a frightening situation.

“In general, think about how quickly you or the other person needs medical attention. If the answer is immediately or they could suffer permanent damage, call 911 or just come into the ED,” says Laura Forman, MD, chief of emergency medicine at Memorial Hospital. “The benefit of 911 is that a team of emergency care providers comes to you, usually faster than you can get to the ED.”

Memorial and Kent hospitals, both Care New England hospitals, now whisk patients into beds and in contact with a care provider in just minutes. There is no more sitting in a waiting area waiting to be called, or long waits to be cared for.

This means patients get the care they need faster and can either go home or go up to a bed on a patient floor in the hospital.

“Patients come into the ED in pain or distress and waiting for several hours is unacceptable,” Dr. Forman says.

If you’re not sure what to do when something happens, here’s a general guide.

Call 911 for:

  • Breathing that has stopped or trouble breathing.
  • Head injury with passing out, crushing headache or confusion.
  • Neck or spine injury.
  • Lightning strike or electric shock.
  • Severe pain in the chest, left arm or jaw; sudden dizziness, weakness or nausea; or unexplained sweating and fatigue.
  • Breathing smoke from a fire or poisonous fumes.
  • Sudden crushing headache, numbness or weakness in a limb or on one side of your face; speech difficulties; trouble seeing out of one or both eyes; or unexplained dizziness.
  • Head injury that knocks you out or causes a seizure, vomiting, nausea or a crushing headache, even if these symptoms happen a few hours after you are hurt.
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Allergic reaction that includes having trouble breathing, swelling or hives.

Call 911 or come into the ED for:

  • A possible broken bone. If you think it’s just a sprain, you can call your primary care provider.
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop if you apply pressure for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Severe burn that is larger than three inches around, breaks the first layer of skin or causes numbness in the area.
  • Continuous vomiting or diarrhea. Both can cause dehydration very quickly.
  • Severe pain anywhere in the body.
  • A fever higher than 105, especially with headache and stiff neck.
  • Any fever in an infant under six months of age.
  • Dizziness or weakness that doesn’t go away or causes fainting.
  • Coughing or throwing up blood.
  • Poisoning or drug or alcohol overdose.

Call your primary care provider for:

  • An abscess or infection.
  • A bite or puncture wound. Head to the ED if the bite has jagged edges.
  • A mild bump on the head that causes mild pain. If your symptoms get worse, go to the ED.
  • Fevers up to 104 in a child over six months of age. Go to the ED if the fever gets worse or doesn’t get better with medicine.
  • Common illnesses such as a cold, the flu, earaches, sore throats, migraines, and rashes.
  • Minor injuries such as sprains or back pain.

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If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can find one by going to the Care New England Find a Doc website and search Primary Care under Specialist.