Definition of Emergency Medicine

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Definition of Emergency Medicine

[Ann Emerg Med. 2008;52:189-190.]

Emergency medicine is the medical specialty dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of unforeseen illness or injury. It encompasses a unique body of knowledge as set forth in the “Model of the Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine.”1 The practice of emergency medicine includes the initial evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and disposition of any patient requiring expeditious medical, surgical, or psychiatric care. Emergency medicine may be practiced in a hospital based or freestanding emergency department (ED), in an urgent care clinic, in an emergency medical response vehicle or at a disaster site.

Emergency medicine professionals provide valuable clinical and administrative services to the emergency department and other sectors of the health care delivery system. These may include and are not limited to:

● The coordination of out-of-hospital emergency medical response

● Out-of-hospital medical control system authorization and oversight

● Participating in community disaster preparedness

● Emergency department leadership and medical direction

● Active participation in emergency department EMTALA compliance

● Active participation in the direction of the emergency department patient intake process

● Active participation in the approval of emergency department equipment and physical plant

● Active participation in the planning of emergency department staffing levels

● Active participation in approval of emergency department policies and procedures

● Active participation in the emergency department budgetary process

● Participation in emergency department staff continuing education

● Oversight and direction of emergency department patient disposition

● The coordination of emergency department patient care among multiple providers and health care facilities

Emergency physicians are the foundation of the United States health care system’s patient safety net. As such they possess a unique understanding of the health care delivery system and are ideally positioned to evaluate, plan, and implement community and regional health policy initiatives.

Revised and approved by the ACEP Board of Directors April 2008

Revised and approved by the ACEP Board of Directors April 2001

This statement replaces one with the same title Reaffirmed by the ACEP Board of Directors October 1998

Policy statement originally approved by the ACEP Board of Directors April 1994

This statement replaces one titled “Definition of Emergency Medicine and the Emergency Physician” Ann Emerg Med (Adopted March 1986;15:1240-1241 October 1986)


1. American College of Emergency Physicians. Model of the clinical practice of emergency medicine [policy statement]; Approved August 2007. To obtain a copy, call 800-798-1822, touch 6.