Frequently Asked Questions About the Emergency Department
If you have any questions, please send them to our Patient Experience Committee.
Who is taking care of me in the Emergency Department (ED)?
A Triage Nurse quickly screens every patient and directs patients to the appropriate treatment area. Once you are in a treatment area, you will be evaluated by a provider team; during this evaluation, you may be seen by a Resident Physician (fully licensed doctor), Physician Assistant (a fully licensed provider), or a Nurse Practitioner (a fully licensed provider). You will always have an assigned Attending Physician (a supervising Emergency Medicine doctor responsible for your care) and a Registered Nurse (will work to assist in your treatment and make sure you are comfortable throughout your visit).
While you are in the ED you may also encounter Patient Transporters, Registrars, Coordinators, Radiology Technicians, Volunteers, and other healthcare team members, all of whom are working together to provide you the best care possible.
Why am I being asked the same questions so many times?
In order to ensure your safety, multiple members of the team may ask you to confirm your identity and why you are visiting the ED at various points during your stay. You may be evaluated by multiple clinicians including Nurses, Physician Assistants, Resident Physicians, Attending Physicians, and Consulting Specialist Physicians and each may ask you to repeat important information relevant to your condition in order to provide you the safest and best possible care.
It looks like some patients are being seen who came in after I did. Did they forget about me?
Our Emergency Department aims to provide the best and fastest care to every patient who comes through the door. Some patients may have abnormal vital signs or medical conditions that put them at higher risk than others, so sometimes patients will be evaluated “out of order” in order to maximize safety for every patient. This is the triage process, and we continually re-evaluate our patients to make sure that the sickest people receive prompt care. Please be sure to tell a member of your team if you are feeling worse at any time.
What are the Acute and Urgent areas of the Emergency Department?
Acute and Urgent are areas of the ED where patients who require monitoring (of oxygen levels and heart activity) are typically cared for. In addition to the bays in these areas, there are several dedicated hallway stretcher areas which are used for suitable patients.
What is the Evaluation area of the Emergency Department?
The Evaluation area of the ED is where many patients will see an Attending Physician (the doctor responsible for your care) and his/her team. When you are in the Evaluation area, your care has begun; your care will likely continue in another area of the ED as determined by your team.
What is the Clinical Decision Unit (CDU)?
The CDU is an area of the ED where you will continue to be evaluated, may have tests done, and will be treated for your condition. Your care is continuing while you are in the CDU and there will be a healthcare team (including an Attending Physician) responsible for your care at all times.
It looks like there are multiple seating areas in the CDU. Should I stay in one?
The CDU is made up of four Treatment Areas: A, B, C, and D. You should stay in the area to which you were escorted. This will make it easier for your Nurse, Patient Transporters, and other staff to identify you. If you need to move from one area to another, please let your Nurse or another staff member know.
What is the Fast Track area of the Emergency Department?
Fast Track is an area of the ED where you may be seen with medical concerns which usually can be diagnosed and treated so that you can go home. You may be brought into an exam room and then asked to return to the waiting area while tests or other parts of your workup are pending. This is to allow us to treat as many patients as quickly and safely as possible.
What is the Pediatrics area of the Emergency Department?
The Pediatrics area of the Emergency Department takes care of children and young adults with a variety of clinical concerns. Physicians and Nurses in Pediatrics have special training to work with children, and Child Life Specialists are available to help our youngest patients relax while visiting the Emergency Department. Pediatric patients may be cared for in other areas of the ED as determined by the care team.
Are there interpreters available? I would feel more comfortable discussing my care in my native language.
There are either live (in-person) or phone-based interpretation services available 24 hours per day for almost every language. Even if you speak English, please tell a member of your healthcare team if you feel more comfortable communicating in your native language and we will be happy to arrange for interpreter services.
I feel worse. Who should I tell?
If at any point while you are in the ED you feel worse or different than when you came in, tell any staff member and a member of your healthcare team will come to reevaluate you. If you are in pain, let your nurse know.
I’m not comfortable. Is there anything you can do?
Since there are not always enough stretchers (beds) for every patient in the Emergency Department to lie down, those patients who are able to sit in chairs are asked to do so. If you are cold, we may be able to offer you a warm blanket and/or a hot beverage. We may also be able to offer you a pillow to make you more comfortable. Please ask a member of your team.
Can I eat and drink?
It is very important to ask a member of your care team if it is okay to eat or drink. Sometimes you may need to have a test or procedure that means you should not eat or drink. If you are able to drink, we may be able to offer you water, coffee, or tea. If you are able to eat, we may be able to offer you a meal or snack. Please talk to a member of your team if you are hungry or thirsty. There is also a 24-hour café called Coffee Central in the hospital’s main lobby, as well as a cafeteria downstairs. If you are able to eat, a family member can purchase food for you there including sandwiches, soups, and pastries.
What tests will I undergo?
Every patient’s workup is different based on why she or he is in the ED. You may require lab tests (blood draw or urine sample), x-rays or CT scans (pictures of the inside of your body), or other tests. Some patients may not require any tests during their Emergency Department visit. Your healthcare team will explain what tests you will need and can answer any questions you may have.
How long will I be here?
Every patient is different and there is no way to provide exact estimates of how long your treatment will take. Imaging tests (like x-rays and CT scans) can take several hours to be completed and interpreted by the radiology doctors. Lab tests may take up to 90 minutes or longer to result depending on the test.
You may also need to be evaluated by a Consulting Specialist Doctor from outside the Emergency Department depending on your condition, and this may also take several hours.
Remember that there is a healthcare team responsible for your care at all times and if you have questions about next steps in your care, ask at any time.
Will I need to stay in the hospital?
Sometimes your condition may require additional care in the hospital and you will be admitted or observed in the hospital. At that point your care may continue with a different healthcare team.
Once the decision has been made, your healthcare team will talk to you about where in the hospital you will go and what to expect. Sometimes there may be a very long wait for a bed to become available. In that case your care will continue in the Emergency Department until your bed is ready. Depending on why you need to stay and which team will take care of you in the hospital, they may come to meet you while you are still in the Emergency Department and start taking care of you at that time.
Depending on your condition and care plan, your team may speak with you about alternative pathways that may be more convenient for you, including our Home Hospital Program or transfer to Newton Wellesley Hospital for Inpatient care.
Remember that there is always a health care team responsible for your care. If you are ever unsure who that is, just ask.
What does it mean to be “observed” in the hospital?
Our ED provider may speak with you about being observed. The goal of observation care is to provide additional treatment and rule out serious illness. This type of care may be provided in either our ED area or upstairs in our observation unit. Most people are under observation for less than 24 hours. You will be monitored, meet with doctors from specialties related to your condition, receive treatment or get tests done. If a serious condition is diagnosed by your care team, you may be admitted into the hospital as an inpatient for additional medical care.
What happens when I go home?
Many times your treatment will be completed in the Emergency Department and it will be safe for you to go home. You will be given specific follow-up instructions before you leave. You may be prescribed medications to continue taking when you leave the Emergency Department. It is very important that you fill these prescriptions at the pharmacy and take the medicine as instructed.
There is an outpatient pharmacy here at Mass General on the first floor of the Wang Ambulatory Care Center building. Ask for directions if you wish to fill your prescription there. The hours of operation are: Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, Saturday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, Sunday and holidays, 9:00 am to 12:30 pm.
If you have any questions about what you should do when you go home, ask a member of your healthcare team.
Your healthcare team will also talk to you about reasons to return to the Emergency Department. If you have any of these symptoms or any other concerns, you can return at any time to be reevaluated. The Emergency Department is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
What are Alternative Care Pathways? (Home Hospital, Virtual Observation Unit, and the Mobile Response Programs)
If you are well enough to go home but still need care from clinicians, you may be referred to the Mass General Home Hospital, ED Virtual Observation Unit or Mobile Response Programs. These programs provide similar medical care as you would receive in the hospital, but in the comfort of your home. A team of Mass General clinicians will visit or reach out to you each day to care for you and to make sure that your condition is improving as expected. They will also make sure that your home is set up safely for you as you recover. Many patients recover more quickly and are less likely to need additional hospitalization or rehabilitation care after in-home treatment. These options are available to patients who meet certain criteria and most commonly require treatment for the following medical conditions:
- Cellulitis (skin infection
- Certain types of pneumonia
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Congestive heart failure
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
How can I access my test results after I leave the ED?
In addition to referencing your discharge paperwork from the ED, consider enrolling in Mass General Brigham Patient Gateway, a portal that provides electronic access to some of your medical information. If you would like a complete copy of your medical record, please contact the Mass General Medical Records Department at 617-726-2361 or visit their office located on the 8th floor of the Austen building at the Mass General Main Campus. If you have specific questions about your test results or discharge instructions, please call us at 617-643-0045.
Where can I get help related to a substance use disorder after I leave the ED?
The Mass General Bridge Clinic (located at the Mass General Main Campus) is a transitional outpatient addiction clinic for discharged inpatients and patients leaving the ED who are not yet connected to outpatient care. The Bridge Clinic provides patients with continued necessary treatment for their SUDs until appropriate community connections can be made. Visit the Mass General Substance Use Disorders Initiative for information and additional resources.
My phone or tablet battery is running low. Where can I charge it?
There are charging stations available in the CDU and in the front ED lobby. Do not leave your electronic device unattended.
How can I access the internet?
There is complimentary Wi-Fi internet access available throughout the Emergency Department. Look for Mass General Brigham Guest (“phspiaguest”) in your network list to connect.
I don’t feel safe at home. Who can I tell?
Tell any staff member if you have any concerns about your safety at home or anywhere else. We will assist you to make sure that you are safe while you are here and prior to leaving the hospital.
How can my family members contact me while I am here?
The main phone number for the hospital is 617-726-2000. Your family members can ask to be transferred to the Emergency Department and be routed to the area in which you are a patient. If your family members come to the Emergency Department, they will be greeted at the main desk and staff will escort them to your location as appropriate.
I want to provide feedback about my experience.
We are always trying to improve our care, and we welcome your feedback! Please let a member of your healthcare team know if you have comments or questions about your Emergency Department visit.
Who should I contact if I receive a bill for my visit?
Questions regarding any Mass General bill can be answered by calling the Mass General Brigham Patient Billing Solutions phone line at 617-726-3884.
My clinical team recommended follow up care. How do I know if it will be covered by my insurance?
Please contact your insurance company to inquire about coverage for follow up care.
What should I do if I need to update my registration information after I am discharged?
Please contact the Patient Service Center to update your registration information, including updating insurance information if you were not able to provide it during your visit. The Patient Service Center can be reached at 1-866-211-6588.
How do I learn more about eligibility for financial assistance?
After you are discharged, you can either visit Outpatient Registration and Financial Services on Wang 1 at the Mass General Main Campus next to the outpatient pharmacy, or you can call them at 617-726-2191.
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The Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Department is a full-service, state-of-the-art facility that is equipped to handle any medical emergency.