When To Take Your Child to the Doctor, Urgent Care or the ER

Getting sick or injured rarely happens at the ideal time. If your child becomes ill or injured during the middle of the night, late afternoon, or at school – a medical emergency is never convenient. But how do you know when to visit the Emergency Room (ER) or Urgent Care, or if a visit or simple phone call to the doctor may suffice?
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when seeking care for your child.
Pediatrician Visit: Bring your child to visit your pediatrician if he or she is sick and not feeling better in a week to 10 days or has a fever that isn’t going down. A doctor’s visit will include a thorough evaluation, which could include x-rays or blood tests, based on your child’s symptoms, to assist with a diagnosis and determining a treatment plan. It’s important to establish a relationship with a pediatrician who understands your child’s health history and can partner with you on preventative care, as well as evaluating illnesses and injuries.  
Urgent Care: When your pediatrician is not available, which is often the case after office hours and/or nights and weekends, urgent care is an excellent resource. Urgent care offers the same services as that of a doctor’s office in addition to expanded offerings, such as breathing treatments, blood tests, IV hydration and medical imaging, often in one location. Children who have minor cuts or a rash or a fever that won’t go down or who are experiencing weakness, joint and muscle pain, cough and fever, headache (mild to moderate), sore throat and sinus pain, or ear pain, will find immediate attention in urgent care. Urgent care also works closely with your pediatrician to advise what procedures were performed, as well as a suggested treatment plan. Urgent care offers shorter wait times than the emergency room, and is more affordable as most visits are covered by insurance.
Emergency Room (ER): If your child is experiencing difficulty breathing, severe dehydration or vomiting, chest pain or pressure, severe abdominal pain, convulsions or seizures, severe bleeding, poisoning or suspected poisoning, unconsciousness, moderate to severe burns, a serious head, neck or back injury or obvious broken bones, go immediately to the ER. The ER is equipped to handle all types of emergencies and has diagnostic tools to help identify or rule out severe illnesses and injuries. To lessen the chance of possibly exposing your child or others – especially infants – to illness while in urgent care or the ER, take the necessary precautions and use available hand sanitizers, avoid those coughing or sneezing in the waiting room, and, if necessary, cover your child’s face with a mask.     
911: 911 emergency medical assistance should immediately be sought if someone has passed out, has an altered mental state or is not able to care for him or herself. When in doubt, call 911. Better to be safe than sorry.
When your child is faced with an illness or injury, use this information to help guide your decision where to seek care along with advice from medical professionals.
Making the appropriate choice for care based on your child’s symptoms is better not only for you but for the community as well. It can reduce your wait time and free up capacity for severely injured and ill patients to be treated in the ER and help keep your medical expenses down.
Deborah Greer, M.D., is Executive Medical Director, Urgent Care Services, John Muir Health. You can learn more or schedule an appointment online at johnmuirhealth.com/urgentcare.


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