Here’s How to Skip the Line at the Emergency Room

Updated: Jun. 21, 2022

The last thing you want to do in an emergency is wait. Here are some tips on how to get seen sooner in the emergency room.

emergency room signMark Winfrey/Shutterstock

The median wait time in an American emergency room is 30 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That can be dangerous if a trip to the emergency room, is, indeed, an emergency. The thing is, many people use the ER for care that doesn’t constitute an emergency. In fact, one study estimates that only about 16 percent of all ER visits are actual emergencies, which is why the medical staff has to prioritize—and why you wait. But you can cut the line—here are some tips.

Avoid nights, weekends, and holidays

If your condition isn’t actually life-threatening, avoid the ER on nights, weekends, and holidays, when the waits will be even longer. Usually, there are fewer doctors on duty during those times. Another option to get quicker treatment is to choose an urgent care clinic instead.

Be lucky enough to have a “bookable emergency room” nearby

In some emergency rooms, such as the one at WellStar Cobb Hospital in Smyrna, GA, you can actually book your emergency room visit online and bypass the waiting room ritual. Check in with the emergency care facilities near you to see if they offer this option.

Call your primary care doctor before you head over

If you can get in touch with your primary care physician before heading to the ER, he or she may be able to get you in without the wait at the hospital where he or she has privileges. If your doctor thinks it’s necessary, he or she may even be able to have you admitted directly into the hospital, avoiding the emergency room entirely. This is definitely one of the ways to make your next trip to the hospital easier.

This is particularly effective in situations where you have a chronic condition that frequently requires trips to the hospital, such as congestive heart failure or diabetes. This tactic may not work if you don’t have a chronic condition, though.

Avoid the ER altogether

For non-emergency medical situations—say, an ear infection or a minor animal bite—you might want to consider seeking care at an urgent care center. Typically, patients are seen more quickly at urgent care centers, Robert Turk, MD, tells “From my perspective, if you have a minor problem for which you are not going to need, say, a CAT scan, go to an urgent care center as opposed a large hospital emergency room,” he says. Read on to find out the 60 secrets the ER staff won’t necessarily tell you.