When a sudden injury or illness strikes, deciding where to go for immediate medical care can be stressful and confusing. Here are some tips to help you decide if a visit to the emergency department (ED) is necessary, ways to prepare for your ED visit and expectations for when you arrive.

When to Visit the Emergency Department

There are some clear indicators for an ED visit. A good rule of thumb is if you believe the person is at risk for permanent disability or could die, call 911 and seek emergency care immediately.

Generally speaking, some conditions that frequently necessitate an emergency department visit include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Chest pain
  • Complications from chronic conditions
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Severe high fever
  • Skin infections
  • Upper respiratory infections

In an emergency, getting to the closest emergency department is important. There are new local options for emergency and hospital care. The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network recently opened Froedtert Community Hospital — MequonFroedtert Community Hospital — New BerlinFroedtert Community Hospital — Oak Creek and Froedtert Community Hospital — Pewaukee. These locations are smaller in size but staffed and equipped to treat conditions that require emergency care. Each one has a seven-bed emergency department and eight inpatient beds, so emergency care is offered 24/7 and patients can stay overnight, if needed. The smaller size makes parking and navigating the building easier.

How to Prepare for an Emergency Department Visit

Trips to the ED are never planned, but it is a good idea to have three items prepared in case an emergency occurs. You can easily bring them with you if you have to make a trip to the ED.

  1. Medication and allergies list: A list of your current medications with dosages and frequencies along with a list of known allergies can be helpful information for ED staff to make decisions about your treatment. Typing the list and printing it will make it easier for staff to read than a handwritten list.
  2. Advanced directive: An advanced directive is a legal document that details how you want medical decisions about you made if you are unable to make them yourself. To make an advance directive in the state of Wisconsin, you can complete a power of attorney for health care document, a living will or both.
  3. Emergency contact information: It is a good idea to keep a typed list of your emergency contacts in your wallet or purse. If your life is at risk, medical staff can easily access it and can contact your loved ones.

What to Expect at the Emergency Department

When you arrive at the ED, you will be greeted by a registration specialist who will gather information for your record and obtain your consent for treatment. A registered nurse is responsible for the triage process. You will be brought to an ED room as soon as one is available.

Wait times can vary by hospital and other factors, such as how many patients are there. You can expect wait times at a Froedtert Community Hospital location to be shorter. Typically, it takes less than ten minutes to be roomed. Once you are in your room, you will be evaluated by an emergency medicine physician.


Treatment decisions will be made based on your evaluation by the attending physician. This could include diagnostic testing such as bloodwork, X-rays, ultrasounds or CT scans. The Community Hospital locations are part of the Froedtert & MCW academic health network so patients benefit from being connected to the academic health network, with the connection to leading-edge care, advanced research and clinical trials as needed.

Thanks to virtual care capabilities, inpatients at both the New Berlin and Pewaukee locations can receive care from a wide range of physicians within the academic health network specializing in cardiology, neurology, infectious disease and more.

Learning the locations of medical facilities in your area and taking steps to prepare before you experience a health crisis will help you if a crisis does occur. Familiarize yourself with the hospital EDs where you live, work or spend time. Also, knowing the signs of true medical emergencies and staying up-to-date with your physicals and screenings will all help avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency department. If you educate yourself about your health care options, you’ll be prepared if and when you need to act quickly.

Headshot of Stephen Spencer, MD
About the Author

Stephen Spencer, MD, sees patients at Froedtert Community Hospital — Pewaukee. He is the Emergency Department Medical Director for that location. This article originally ran in the Waukesha Freeman.

Michael Poles

This article was well written and educational. I will be more prepared should I need an emergency visit. Hopefully Dr. Spencer is the one who treats me.

Desiree Dabney

Thank You Dr. Spencer very informative article

paula lucey

I had excellent care at the New Berlin site twice for kidney stones. Great team work and providers.