`Emergency'—A Redefinition

Terrence S. Carden Jr, MD
JAMA. 1978;240(4):377. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290040055025.
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The essence of the concept emergency is a situation that demands immediate action. In medicine, an emergency has been considered traditionally as a situation that required immediate intervention by the physician to preserve the patient's life or limb. Traditional medical emergencies include severe trauma, shock and other cardiovascular catastrophes, and a variety of other life-threatening clinical conditions.

In the busiest medical practice, truly life-threatening situations are uncommon. Physicians who devote their lives to emergency medicine can expect to encounter such problems in 2% to 5% of their patients—just a bit more than any other busy primary care practitioner. However, in the course of their practices, physicians are often called on to make immediate diagnostic or therapeutic decisions. Such situations may not constitute medical emergencies in the traditional sense, but for the physician involved, for the family, and for the patient, the experience may represent a true emergency.

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