What to expect
at the emergency department (ED)

Doctor and mother with child in examining room

The Emergency Department (ED) is a place where people go for immediate care. Visiting the ED can be scary and overwhelming, especially when you don't know what to expect. We hope this infographic helps reduce stress and helps you prepare.


When you walk through the doors of an emergency department, you will see a waiting room, triage station and a registration area. Your first stop will be at the triage station. This will help the nurse understand how sick your child is.

Wait in line, and a nurse will call you forward to the triage station. You will be asked about your child's symptoms and why you have brought your child to the ED. The nurse may ask for both your health card and your child's health card. The nurse will also check your child's weight and vital signs, including heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and oxygen saturation levels.

three kinds of thermometer

There are several ways to take your child's temperature, depending on their age

a baby on a scale

Weighing your child helps doctors know how much medication to give, if needed

a child's hand with a pulse oximeter on one finger

Oxygen saturation is the amount of oxygen in your child's blood


Your child must be registered before they can receive care. After triage, you will be told to go to the registration desk. You will be asked again for both your own and your child's health cards. Your child's information will be entered into the hospital system. They will then be given a wristband and you will be asked to wait in the waiting room.

a hospital reception desk with a dad and his child nearby

Waiting Room

The amount of time you wait to see a health care provider usually depends on your child's symptoms. Usually a child with more severe symptoms will be seen first. Wait times also depend on how busy the ED is. You may only wait for 15 minutes or you may wait for several hours. Walking around the hallways or playing with medical equipment may put your child at risk of picking up an infection in the ED. Please stay in the waiting area that has been assigned to you. If you feel your child's condition has changed while you are waiting, let the triage nurse know.

A hospital waiting room with parents and kids

Tips to make the wait easier:

  • Bring some books for your child to read or colour
  • Some waiting rooms have a play area or a fish tank
  • Your child might like watching the TVs in the waiting room
  • Listening to music with headphones can also help pass the time

Seeing health care providers

Your child's name will be called when a health care provider is ready to see them. You and your child will be brought to a room where your child will be assessed. Some tests may be done before your child is diagnosed or treated. You may be asked for a list of medications your child takes, and a list of allergies your child has. It's a good idea to have these lists ready before you see a health care provider.

Several health care providers

Health care professionals are people who provide medical care. There are usually many health care professionals involved, such as nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians and doctors. If you are at a teaching hospital, students and residents may also be involved in providing care.

  • Nurses are health care professionals who work to help your child get better. They provide direct care and treatment, and support patients throughout their visit.
  • Respiratory therapists are specialized health care professionals who provide care for children with heart and lung conditions.
  • Technicians help with diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, and other imaging tests.
  • Doctors work with other health care providers to provide direct care to children. They diagnose your child, interpret test results, prescribe treatment, and provide follow up.

Discharge (leaving the ED)

Being discharged (leaving) from the ED is different for each child. Some children may not need treatment, and will be sent home after being assessed. Some children may be treated and then reassessed before being sent home. Reassessing your child after treatment may take time, but it helps make sure they are well enough to leave. Your child may also be prescribed medication to be taken at home. Some children may have to wait in the waiting room for test results. Some children may be admitted to the hospital so that health care providers can continue treating and monitoring their health.

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Going home

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Waiting for results

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Admitted to hospital

Visiting the ED during the COVID-19 pandemic

Before going to the ED, it's important to know if you or your child have symptoms of COVID-19. Please use the Government of Canada COVID-19 self-assessment tool to check your symptoms.

Preparing for your visit

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some hospital procedures have changed. Here are some examples of what to expect:

a clipboard with checklist
Expect additional screening processes.

To help keep everyone safe, EDs may have extra screening processes before triage. This may include asking about your child's symptoms, if you or your child have travelled in the past 14 days, and if you or your child have had close contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. In some EDs, patient waiting areas may be separated based upon additional screening. Always provide honest and complete answers to questions you are asked.

the front of a hospital
The ED may look different.

There may only be one entrance that is open. To keep everyone safe, hospitals need to keep the number of people inside as low as possible. Most hospitals only allow one parent or caregiver to come in with a child. Siblings, grandparents, family friends and family translators will not be allowed. Hospitals have access to translators if this is needed. Please find a caregiver for your other children before coming to the ED.

a doctor in yellow gown and goggles with gloves
Hospital staff will also look different.

Hospital staff will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, masks, eye shields, and gloves. This is to help limit the spread of the virus. This may be scary for your child. You can help them prepare by letting them know what to expect, reassuring them when you are in the ED, and answering their questions honestly. Be patient with your child and take their concerns seriously.

a hand sanitizer station
Sanitize your hands when you arrive.

In the ED waiting room, use the hand sanitizer stations for you and your child. You and your child may also be given a mask to prevent spreading infections to hospital staff. Keep this on during your entire visit. Sanitize your hands before putting the mask on, and immediately after taking the mask off. Try not to touch your face or your child's face.

COVID-19 Resources