Why Does Someone Go Before Me When I Got Here First?


It’s a common practice in American businesses to provide service to whoever arrives first. If you scheduled an appointment at an auto repair shop for 9:00 a.m. and someone who came in for a 9:30 a.m. appointment received service before you did, you would understandably feel annoyed. The same is true when you’re standing in a long line to buy tickets for a movie. People standing at the back of the line probably wouldn’t have the nerve to walk up to the ticket teller and demand that they have the right to purchase their tickets before anyone else does.

The hospital emergency department is one place where the concept of first-come, first-serve does not apply. That is because hospitals across the United States and developed countries around the world use a system known as triage when determining who needs to see a doctor first.

With triage, a nurse evaluates the symptoms of every patient who presents for emergency care and decides who need immediate treatment and who can wait for others to receive treatment before them. While it can be frustrating to wait when you don’t feel well, this system is the most efficient way of managing care for hospitals and is the most equitable for patients.

Understanding the Process When You Report to the Emergency Room

You should check in by signing your name, listing the reason you are here, and notating the time. The person staffing check-ins does not take your insurance card or any other information from you. He or she notifies the triage nurse of the names on the list.

The triage nurse will determine who to call back first. Most patients will go through the same process of having the triage nurse check their temperature, blood pressure, and other vital statistics. You should be prepared to describe your illness symptoms or injury in as much detail as possible, including when the problem started and whether its intensity is getting worse. This helps the triage nurse rate the seriousness of your issues and will determine when you get called back for service.

You will need to go back to the waiting area after you see the triage nurse. If you feel unwell enough that you think you might vomit or feel cold, feel free to ask a staff person in the WMHS Emergency Department for an emesis bag, a blanket, or whatever else you might need. Unfortunately, there is no way for either the triage nurse or the person staffing the check-in desk to know how long you will wait for a doctor to see you. Providers work to provide quality care to each patient in the Emergency Department and will see you as soon as possible.

How the Emergency Department Staff Determines Priority Among Patients

After the triage nurse finishes assessing a patient, he or she decides whether the condition is immediately life-threatening, urgent but not life-threatening, or less urgent. The staff also needs to decide who receives care first among patients whose symptoms fit into the same category. The system is not always perfect but it ensures that those with the most urgent concerns don’t have to wait any longer than necessary.

We understand that it is difficult to watch others go in for an examination before you. It might even seem like the staff is taking your concerns lightly but we assure you that is not the case. WMHS cares about the health outcome of every patient who visits our facility whether that involves checking in for emergency care, receiving outpatient treatment, or receiving inpatient treatment. You are always welcome to speak to someone in our Patient Experience department if you have concerns about your care. The telephone number to reach them is 240-964-8104.