When To Call 911

A big question many people have when they feel there's an emergency, is... should I call 911.  While we cannot provide you a definitive reference guide on when to call or not to call, we have put together a list that may help you decide.  Everyone's assessment of pain and what is an emrgency differs, so here's when to call an Ambulance according to guidelines published by the American College of Emergency Physicians:

  • The person’s condition appears life-threatening
  • The person’s condition could worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the hospital
  • Moving the person could cause further harm or injury
  • The person needs the skills or equipment used by paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMT)
  • Driving would cause significant delay in getting to the hospital

Call 911 if you think you or someone else is experiencing a medical emergency.

How to determine if a condition is life-threatening

Deciding whether or not to call an ambulance is a decision you’ll have to make based on your best assessment of the situation. Even if you think you can get to the hospital faster in your own vehicle, please remember that the ambulance is equipped to start emergency care as soon as it arrives.

Here are some examples of life-threatening conditions requiring an ambulance. The person:

  • Appears to be having a stroke (think F-A-S-TFacial droop, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911)
  • Appears to be having a heart attack
  • Has lost consciousness, is unresponsive, or is not responding appropriately
  • Is having a seizure
  • Is having shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Is bleeding uncontrollably
  • Is having a severe allergic reaction
  • Has severe burns
  • Has swallowed something poisonous
  • Has thoughts of harming themselves or others
  • Has taken too much medication on purpose or by accident, including drug misuse or abuse.


If you’re trying to decide whether or not to call an ambulance, it’s better to call and have it come. In this region, an ambulance usually arrives within about 10 minutes.


How to call an ambulance

The number to call for an ambulance in Marlboro is call 911. When calling for an ambulance, do your best to remain calm and speak clearly. Be prepared to:

  • Provide the name of the person having the emergency and what the problem seems to be
  • Share the location information and specific address, if possible
  • Tell the dispatcher where the person is located, such as in the back yard or in the downstairs bedroom
  • Provide the phone number you’re calling from
  • Stay on the phone with the dispatcher in case the dispatcher needs more information

If you witness or are part of a highway emergency, do your best to make note of highway marker numbers or exit signs. Also determine which lane and in which direction the accident occurred so you can communicate as clearly as possible with the dispatcher.

What to expect when you call an ambulance

The EMTs and paramedics are able to provide certain kinds of care on the scene and while in transport, which can help save a person’s life or minimize pain and suffering. The ambulance will go to the nearest appropriate emergency room based on the level of care needed and the availability of anticipated resources, such as specialized stroke, trauma, or pediatric care. Once at the hospital, the ER staff will determine which patients get seen first. Just because you arrive in an ambulance doesn’t necessarily mean you get first priority. You will be seen based on level of need.

Cost of an ambulance ride to the hospital

How much you have to pay depends on your health insurance coverage and any deductible you might have. If you have to take an ambulance to the hospital, you will be billed at a later time by the ambulance company. Check with your insurance provider for more information about the cost of ambulance transport. Above all, do not delay calling for an ambulance when you think one is needed.

Know the difference: Medical emergency vs. medical attention

Life happens. You sprain your ankle playing soccer with friends. Your partner slices a finger on a kitchen knife. Your child runs a high fever. In the moment, and sometimes under stressful conditions, it can be hard to make that quick decision whether to head for the emergency room (ER) or to stop in to an urgent care center in your neighborhood.

It’s good to know in advance what a true medical emergency is vs. what can be handled at an urgent care location.

If you believe you have a life-threatening emergency or need emergency care, call 911 now.

When should you go to urgent care?

Needing urgent care is not the same as needing emergency medical attention. Urgent care is an option when you have an immediate need but cannot get in to see your primary care doctor on the same day. Examples of when you might need urgent care include:

  • Having a high fever (but no rash)
  • Having ear pain
  • Having pain when urinating
  • Having the flu or flu-like symptoms
  • Having an infection

You can also head to an urgent care center when you’re having an allergic skin reaction or you’ve got a shallow cut that needs more than a Band-Aid. Urgent care centers also help with a sprained wrist or ankle, and can even check for fracture (many have on-site X-ray capabilities). If you have a broken limb showing through the skin, however, you must get to the emergency room right away.

You can also use urgent care when you already know the diagnosis, such as you’re having recognizable symptoms associated with a familiar condition, like a urinary tract infection.

When should you go to the ER?

Many of us tend to downplay symptoms and may even want to avoid “making a fuss” when in fact we need emergency attention. If you are experiencing any of the following situations, do not wait it out. Waiting could cost you—a lost limb, loss of vision, worsening of your condition, increased risk of infection, damage to your brain and any number of reasons to get yourself to an ER right away.

  • Sudden loss of balance or fainting
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or comprehending
  • Sudden extreme pain, especially in the abdomen
  • Sudden change in vision
  • Testicular pain


You should also get to the ER when you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Head or eye injury
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Suspected overdose or poisoning


Other reasons to go to the ER include:

  • A deep cut that needs stitches
  • A high fever that’s accompanied by a rash
  • Serious burns
  • Traumatic injury from a car accident
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy


Seizures, broken limbs that break the skin, vomiting or diarrhea that is persistent (won’t stop and lasts for long period of time) are also good reasons to get to an emergency room. ER personnel often say they’d rather people come in and be seen and find out it’s not an emergency rather than not come in and find out they should’ve been in the ER all along.

When should you see a doctor?

Keep in mind that your primary care doctor is the first person to turn to for ongoing care and oversight of your health. That means your usual health screenings, such as mammograms and care for chronic conditions like diabetes, are prescribed and directed by your primary care physician. An urgent care center does not provide blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, immunizations, and prescription refills. Turn to your own doctor for these.

Ambulance Service Vs. Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Service

The main difference between ambulance services and non-emergency medical transportation is urgency. When you dial 911 and call for emergency help, an ambulance comes and picks you up. Non-emergency medical transportation, as its name suggests, offers medical transportation in non-emergency situations. In most cases, this form of transportation is planned for and booked in advance. On the other hand, the need for an ambulance is almost always unplanned.

When you dial 911 for emergency services you could be picked up by an ambulance or a medical flight crew, depending on location and other circumstances. Basically, whatever is necessary to save your life. The goal is for the emergency crew to reach you as fast as possible to limit the risk of further complication, injury, or death.

A non-emergency medical transportation service generally requires advanced reservations as they are not equipped to rush to the scene in a matter of minutes. For starters, they don’t have a siren that prompts other drivers on the road to pull over.

Additionally, an ambulance ride requires no pre-approval—you call 911 and an ambulance arrives. Non-emergency transportation generally requires pre-authorization of payment.

Signs You Require Emergency Ambulance Services

  • You have an urgent and immediate need for medical attention that could be or is life threatening. Some examples include a heart attack or stroke, injury following a car accident or a bad fall, or a life-threatening situation of any kind.


Signs You Require Non-Emergency Transportation

  • You do not require emergency medical attention, aka your needs are not immediate. Examples include a schedule medical appointment, dialysis, physical therapy, etc.
  • There are no options for free transportation—family members cannot take you, free rides are not available at your time of need.
  • You have physical limitations or impairments that require a specialized medical vehicle. For instance, you are bed-bound and require stretcher transportation, or are in a wheelchair.
  • You need to travel long distance—ambulance rides are generally local, while non-emergency transportation offers local and long distance transportation.


From bariatric patients to patients on dialysis, there are countless reasons people of all ages may require non-emergency transportation services.

One in three people don’t understand when an ambulance is not necessary to deal with common medical situations, a survey indicates.

The survey shows most people know when to call an ambulance for life-threatening medical emergencies like a heart attack, but many don’t understand when an ambulance is not needed for less urgent situations like a woman going into the early stages of labor.

“Abuse of ambulance services is high, and there is concern among healthcare professionals that misuse of ambulances places stress on services, which may jeopardize patient care,” write researcher Helen M. Kirkby of the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and colleagues in Emergency Medicine Journal.

The results are based on an online survey of 150 adults in the U.K., but researchers suggest the findings may also apply to the U.S., where several previous studies have demonstrated that misuse of ambulance services is an issue.

When to Call for Help

The participants were presented with 12 common medical scenarios that may require urgent medical attention and asked to identify when they would call for an ambulance or take other action, such as seek medical advice, self-medicate, or do nothing.

The study showed almost all could correctly identify that an ambulance was needed in at least three out of the following five medical emergencies: 

  • Middle-aged man with pains in his chest (possible heart attack)
  • Acetaminophen (painkiller) overdose
  • Older person slurring his words after not having drunk any alcohol  (possible stroke)
  • Traffic accident victim
  • 4-year-old with high temperature and stiff neck (possible meningitis)

But researchers say one in four did not recognize the need to call for an ambulance in the case of a possible stroke.

When Not to Call an Ambulance

When it came to knowing when an ambulance was not needed, researchers found the results were not as promising. Most participants only correctly identified two out of the following seven non-urgent medical scenarios, and between 5% and 48% would have called for an ambulance in these cases:

  • Woman going into the early stages of labor
  • Man with chronic back pain who has run out of painkillers
  • Drunk man being sick (but not unconscious)
  • 3-year-old with a piece of Lego stuck in his nose
  • Single episode of blood in the urine
  • Toddler with a bruise on his head
  • Knife cut on the palm of the hand that is not bleeding heavily


“All of these scenarios may require medical advice or help, ranging from first aid at home to an urgent emergency department visit, but none requires ambulance attendance,” write the researchers.