Emergency medicine is a medical specialty involving care for undifferentiated, unscheduled patients with acute illnesses or injuries that require immediate medical attention. While not usually providing long-term or continuing care, emergency physicians undertake acute investigations and interventions to resuscitate and stabilize patients. Emergency physicians generally practice in hospital emergency departments, pre-hospital settings via emergency medical services, and intensive care units.
The field of emergency medicine encompasses care involving the acute care of internal medical and surgical conditions. Emergency physicians are tasked with seeing a large number of patients, treating their illnesses and arranging for disposition—either admitting them to the hospital or releasing them after treatment as necessary. The emergency physician requires a broad field of knowledge and advanced procedural skills often including surgical procedures, trauma resuscitation, advanced cardiac life support and advanced airway management. They must have the skills of many specialists—the ability to resuscitate a patient (critical care medicine), manage a difficult airway (anesthesia), suture a complex laceration (plastic surgery), reduce (set) a fractured bone or dislocated joint (orthopedic surgery), treat a heart attack (cardiology), manage strokes (neurology), work-up a pregnant patient with vaginal bleeding (obstetrics and gynecology), stop a bad nosebleed (ENT), place a chest tube (cardiothoracic surgery), and to conduct and interpret x-rays and ultrasounds (radiology).
Emergency medicine is distinct from urgent care, which refers to immediate healthcare for non-emergency medical issues. In fact, urgent care has its roots in emergency medicine when, in the 1970s, physicians extended hours of practice to focus on non-emergency issues.