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In an Emergency, Do You Take Your Child to the Pediatrician, Urgent Care or ER?

September 02, 2020

When a child is sick or injured, the natural reaction of many parents is to immediately go straight to the emergency room. In some cases, though, taking your child to urgent care or even waiting to see a pediatrician may be better suited for the situation. But how do you know which one is the appropriate option?

While some scenarios aren’t as clear as others, a few general rules can guide parents when evaluating what steps to take in an emergency. By following these recommendations whenever possible, parents can ensure the best possible care for their child without the expense of an unnecessary visit to the ER.

Many pediatricians now offer telemedicine visits for common pediatric issues in order to keep you and your family safe from exposure to COVID-19. Your insurance usually covers these visits, allowing you and your child to receive care and information from the comfort of your home. 

When deciding where to take your child during a health scare, consider these factors: 

When a Child Needs to Go to the ER 

ERs are best suited for true emergencies. These facilities are equipped to provide immediate evaluation and care for complicated illnesses or injuries such as:

  • Broken bones

  • Seizures

  • A child who is gasping for air

  • A child showing signs of severe dehydration

  • A child who has hit their head and lost consciousness

If your child has appendicitis, for example, labs and films can be obtained quickly at an ER. A surgeon will be consulted in a timely fashion so that your child can be admitted to the hospital or taken to the operating room as soon as possible. Similarly, if your child is having respiratory distress, oxygen and life-saving medications can be administered, a chest film can be obtained and your child can be admitted to the hospital for ongoing care.

When a Child Should Go to Urgent Care

Urgent care should be considered for less serious but still urgent issues. Visits to urgent care centers are typically brief, as they are focused on an acute problem such as an ear ache that cannot wait or an ankle sprain. Minor injuries also can be treated quickly. Urgent care centers are usually equipped to do lab tests, x-rays and splinting and suturing of wounds.

Another common scenario is vomiting. If a child has been vomiting for several hours and is at risk for becoming dehydrated, a visit to a quality urgent care setting could keep that child out of the hospital. In such situations, waiting until the morning for a pediatrician’s office hours may mean having waited too long and result in your child being admitted to the hospital.

It’s important to note that, unlike your child’s primary care clinician, urgent care centers are not meant for chronic or ongoing issues, unless there is a flare up of symptoms that need immediate attention. If you’re ever in doubt, a call to your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician’s after-hours number will connect you with someone on call. They can help you decide whether your child should be seen urgently, and if so, where your child should be seen for the correct level of care. 

When a Child Should See Their Pediatrician

Your pediatrician can see your child for almost all medical problems. In fact, it’s rare that a child needs a visit to an emergency room. Pediatric offices can be very busy, but you should expect to have time to ask all of your questions and have them answered by a clinician or staff member who knows you and your child. Your doctor’s office is truly the best place to start for all medical care related to your child.

CHOOSE Close ER Care for Kids' Misadventures.

Kids are great at inventing their own fun, but sometimes that fun leads to an ER run. And while we understand you may think it’s best to keep kids home right now, we want to assure you Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children is committed to your family’s care and safety.

Learn More

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