Is an intensive care unit (ICU) different than an emergency room (ER)?

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

The ICU is indeed different than the emergency room. The emergency room is an area of the hospital where patients are brought first when they have had some type of accident or emergency. (For example a car accident or a heart attack). Patients are evaluated and cared for in the emergency room. Depending on how sick the patients are the emergency room doctor may send them to another area of the hospital called the ICU. The ICU is called the intensive care unit. Patients who are very sick and need specialized care are placed in the ICU. Nurses in the ICU have special training to take care of patients who are very sick.

An intensive care unit (ICU) is different from an emergency room (ER). One of the biggest things ER doctors have to do is make dispositions, determinations of where people are going to go. Are they going to be going home, or are they going to be admitted to the hospital to a regular floor bed? Do they need to be transferred out to another facility, or do they need an ICU setting, where they can be watched more closely and taken care of at a higher level? Sicker people will be going to an ICU. The ICU is like an extension of the ER. ER doctors do all of the stabilizing measures, make sure that people are all wrapped up, and then they will be sent to the ICU, where they can be taken care of long term.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

Intensive care and emergency room are two different areas of a hospital. The emergency room of a hospital is where ambulances bring people who are critical. It is also the area where patient's go when they need immediate care and cannot wait for an appointment with a physician. Some people who go to the emergency room will be treated and discharged while others will be admitted to the hospital for further care. The intensive care unit is where critically ill patients go until they are stabilized. Intensive care units receive their patients from surgery, the emergency room, as well as other areas of the hospital. 

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