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Frequently Asked Questions - Emergency Care

Show / Hide What happens in emergency departments?

1.      All patients are assessed on arrival, usually by a nurse

2.      The urgency of each patient's health condition is identified

3.      All patients are assigned a 'triage' category

4.      Category 1 patients treated immediately; Category 2-5 patients transferred to a treatment waiting area

The Australasian College of Emergency Medicine has identified five triage categories and defined the desirable time when treatment should commence for patients in each category.

The Government sets targets for hospitals in consultation with hospital staff and clinical groups to encourage achievement of national standards of care. The Government monitors hospital performance against these targets for the most urgent patients (triage categories 1-3) to encourage hospitals to treat as many patients within the desirable times as possible.

Treatment in the Emergency Department

Some patients are treated in the emergency department and are then able to go home.

Admission from Emergency Department to hospital beds

Where patients require admission to a hospital bed for further treatment, hospitals aim to transfer them from the emergency department to a hospital bed in a timely manner, taking their condition into consideration.

Show / Hide Do I need an appointment to go to an emergency department (ED)?

No.  Emergency departments treat people who are seriously injured or ill and need immediate treatment, you cannot book time to see a doctor at an ED. Patients are treated according to their needs, emergencies and severe illnesses take priority over more minor complaints.  This means if you do encounter a wait at an emergency department, people with more severe illnesses or injuries will be treated before you, despite waiting less time than you. No one will be refused care from an emergency department although you may have to wait to be treated.

Show / Hide How do I find my local emergency department (ED)?

Hospitals and Emergency Department locations and contact details can be found in on the department of health website.  You can search by hospital name, suburb or postcode from the Victorian Health Services Performance home page located here.  Locations can also be found in the front section of the White Pages telephone directory.

Other help numbers:

Emergency: 000

Nurse on Call: 1300 60 60 24

Lifeline: 131114

Poisons Information Centre: 131126

Show / Hide What are the triage urgency categories?

All patients attending emergency departments are ‘triaged’ or assessed for urgency. The first priority is to treat the most urgent patients.

There are five triage categories that have been established by the

These categories indicate the desirable time within which patients should be treated. The Government sets targets for hospitals for the three most urgent categories.

Triage category 1: need for resuscitation - patients treated immediately.

Patients in this group are critically ill and require immediate attention. Most arrive at the emergency department by ambulance. This group includes patients whose heart may have stopped beating, whose blood pressure may have dropped to dangerously low levels, who may be barely breathing or have stopped breathing, who may have suffered a critical injury or who may have had an overdose of intravenous drugs and be unresponsive. The target is 100% treated immediately.

Triage category 2: emergency - patients treated within 10 minutes.

Patients in this group will probably be suffering a critical illness or very severe pain. For example, the group includes patients with serious chest pain likely to be related to a heart attack, people with difficulty breathing and patients with severe fractures. Target is 80% seen within the desired time.

Triage category 3: urgent - patients treated within 30 minutes.

Patients in this group include those suffering from severe illnesses, head injuries but who are conscious, and people with major bleeding from cuts, major fractures, persistent vomiting or dehydration.  Target is 75% seen within the desired time.

Triage category 4: semi-urgent - patients treated within 60 minutes.

Patients in this group usually have less severe symptoms or injuries, although the condition may be potentially serious. Examples include those with mild bleeding, a foreign body in the eye, a head injury (but where the patient never lost consciousness), a sprained ankle, possible bone fractures, abdominal pain, migraine or earache.

Triage category 5: non-urgent - patients treated within 120 minutes.

Patients in this group usually have minor illnesses or symptoms that may have been present for more than a week, like rashes or minor aches and pains. The group includes those with stable chronic conditions who are experiencing minor symptoms.

Show / Hide What are the emergency care performance targets?

The Government sets targets for hospitals for the three most urgent triage categories. The performance of hospitals is measured against these targets.

100 per cent of Category 1 patients to be seen immediately,

80 per cent of Category 2 patients seen within 10 minutes,

75 per cent of Category 3 patients seen within 30 minutes.

Show / Hide How is the estimated time to treatment calculated for emergency departments?

Estimated median time to treatment indicates how long patients can expect to wait for emergency department treatment. It represents the amount of time (in minutes) it will take to treat 50 per cent of patients who arrive for treatment. Put another way, one in two patients can expect to be treated within the median waiting time. These times are estimated for non-urgent patients attending emergency departments, that is, those patients experiencing less severe symptoms or injuries. Urgency of care is assessed by a triage nurse on arrival at the emergency department. A lower urgency category does not mean that you do not need care, just that you can safely wait a little longer than patients with more serious problems.

Estimated median time to treatment varies from day to day and by the time of day. Depending on how many patients have arrived and what treatment is occurring in an emergency department your wait may be shorter or longer than the median waiting time.

The median waiting times presented on this website are calculated on individual hospital activity over several weeks. As such they are estimates of the likely time to treatment and are provided as a guide to health service users. The estimated median time to treatment is calculated from observed median waiting times for semi-urgent and non-urgent patients over a four-week period, lagged by four weeks. It is calculated at three time points (morning, afternoon, and evening/overnight) for each individual hospital.