There's a reason they call it the emergency room, but that alone may intimidate some patients. They worry their injury or illness will waste the doctor's time or take resources away from more serious cases.
Since the consequences of a bad decision can be deadly, we offer this top ten list - the most important one you may ever hear.
The American College of Emergency Physicians defines 10 of them:
Then, there's those gray areas: cuts that stop bleeding, mild orthopedic sprains and colds.
Emergency physician Dr. Cliff Erickson advises, "If you have a runny nose and a slight cough and no high fever and you're not vomiting persistently, you may want to call your primary care doctor."
The standards are much lower for children. They have unique medical problems and may have different symptoms than adults.
Dr. Erickson explains, "Persistent vomiting in children, where they start having decrease urine output or start showing signs of distress or pain, things like that need to be evaluated all the time."
But even with clear cut guidelines, there are exceptions.
Registered Nurse Linda Kassel, triage director, says, "Someone could come in with jaw pain and think they have a dental problem, and it could turn out that they're having an MI, a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack."
So when in doubt, get it checked out. Many times, injuries or illnesses are treated in the ER that could have waited for a primary care physician, but not everyone has one. It's not an ideal situation, but a realistic one.
Since no one is turned away, the ER is a safety net for the community. You should have a list of all the medications you're taking, dosage and frequency, too. If time is of the essence, throw all of your pill bottles into a bag and bring them. Also, know the names of your doctors and specialists.
You should call 9-1-1 and have an ambulance sent when a situation gets worse by the minute. Then, you need care en route to the hospital.