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What Is an Emergency Care Unit?

By K. Kinsella
Updated Feb 09, 2024
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An emergency care unit is a medical facility where people with urgent or life threatening illnesses or injuries can seek immediate assistance. Typically, an emergency care unit is staffed by physicians and nurses. Many such units are found in hospitals and in the United Kingdom and some other English speaking countries these units are usually referred to as casualty departments. In the United States a unit inside a hospital is referred to as the emergency room (ER).

Generally, an emergency care unit is equipped with at least one ambulance. Trained paramedics operate the ambulance and these crews are dispatched to the scene of motor accidents and other incidents that result in severe and life threatening injuries. Paramedics provide some basic medical assistance to the injured at the scene of the incident and attempt to safely transport injured individuals back to the emergency unit. While in transit, the paramedic team relay information about the injuries sustained by patients back to the physicians and nurses at the emergency care unit. Ambulance teams are also dispatched to the homes of the critically ill and laws in many nations enable ambulance crews to operate without having to abide by standard road safety rules.

Many patients arrive at the emergency care unit in ambulances but others arrive by car or foot. Typically, a front desk receptionist takes down basic information such as the name and address of each patient and a member of the medical team makes an initial assessment as to the patient's problem. The most critically injured or unwell patients are given priority and are often rushed into the emergency surgery room. Many care units have several surgeons on staff who are equipped to handle a variety of different life-saving procedures.

Some emergency care units can house dozens of patients while other small units are only equipped to deal with limited numbers of people. Small units sometimes partner with care homes and other facilities that can provide treatment for patients after emergency procedures have been performed. The most critical patients often have to remain at the unit over night under the supervision of physicians and nurses. People suffering from unusual diseases or infections sometimes have to be flown to emergency care units in other cities that have the resources to handle unusual or complex cases.

Many care units are for-profit enterprises that are owned by corporations. In some countries, care units are government owned and the services provided are paid for with taxpayer funds. Non-profit organizations sometimes operate emergency care units that provide treatment for students, low income families or the homeless.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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