For many parents, deciding when you should take a child to urgent care is a difficult decision. More likely than not, many parents would prefer to error on the side of caution, and go into urgent care if they notice anything wrong. Would this, though, actually be the best option for every case of your child becoming sick?
While we would never try to dissuade any parent from seeking medical care for their child, there nevertheless are some things you should consider when thinking about whether you should take a child to urgent care. For instance, should you go to urgent care or the emergency room? Or, even, can you wait to schedule a regular appointment with your child’s pediatrician instead?
In many instances, urgent care simply might not provide the best outcome for what you need. In this post, we seek to help parents with identifying really when you should take a child to urgent care. While every situation is unique, and there’s hardly a one-size-fits-all solution, you nevertheless can improve your decision making with knowing what issues to think through. Let’s talk through some of those issues now.
Why Your Pediatrician Should be Your First Line of Defense
When your child becomes sick or has a medical emergency, what should your first line of defense be? For most instances, when your child becomes sick, you want to turn to your pediatrician before you consider if you should take a child to urgent care. While sometimes as parents, we want to immediately fix the situation at the first sign of our kids getting sick, sometimes we really need to wait to see how the illness develops.
For most instances, you can wait a day or two before even going to the doctor. If your child shows symptoms of an illness, you shouldn’t immediately rush into your healthcare provider. Instead you should contact your pediatrician for guidance.
While they might not get back immediately, that’s still ok. You should give your child’s body some time to start fighting the illness and to assess what might really be going on. If your pediatrician advises you to come in or to go to urgent care, you can then follow their guidance.
In cases where an illness slowly develops, you should always seek out your pediatrician’s office first before considering if you should take a child to urgent care. Even if you can’t schedule a face to face meeting, this course of action will still most of the time be best. Your pediatrician’s office has your child’s medical record, they know you and your child, and they have the best resources to provide the best care.
With that being said, though, some cases do require a more immediate response. For cases in which an illness comes on quickly and your child may be showing signs of extreme distress, you should consider other options. Let’s now look at your next lines of defense after the pediatrician’s office: the ER and urgent care.
What’s the Difference between the ER and Urgent Care?
In thinking through when you should take a child to urgent care, you need to consider that different resources exist for emergency healthcare situations. We have undoubtedly all heard of both the emergency room (ER) at the hospital as well as urgent care facilities, which seem to pop up more and more every day. Did you know, though, that the ER and urgent care aren’t exactly the same thing? Also, did you know that knowing the difference could save you time and money?
There are some instances you should definitely go into urgent care or the ER for. Many more every day issues you might face, though, leave you with doubts. Your child might be running a fever and acting less than themselves, but when does that mean something serious might be going on? When does that escalate from a simple cold to a possibly emergency?
In simple terms, the ER should provide service for very critical life or death situations. If you believe that your life is in imminent danger or that you may lose a limb or body part or have a critical wound such as a gunshot wound, then you should without hesitation go to the ER. You should go to urgent care then when you have a critical issue that needs to be attended to but isn’t life threatening. For instance, if you have intense pain that you believe might be from a kidney stone but can’t see your doctor, then you should consider urgent care in order to seek after hours help.
What are the Positives and Negatives of the ER?
While the ER provides you the best option in critical situations, it also could cost you quite a bit more especially if you have to go outside of your insurance coverage. Urgent care on the other hand, typically will cost less and could provide faster service if you have a non-life threatening issue. You could have an issue that you can’t wait to address for when your doctor’s office opens, but that doesn’t necessary mean that you need the ER automatically.
You should consider taking your child to the ER in clearly immediate emergency situations. If your child has a broken bone or torn ligament or a deep laceration then you shouldn’t waste time considering alternatives, but take them to the ER immediately. Any situation where your child might have lost significant amounts of blood or has a deep wound, significant burn, or has significant issues breathing, the ER will be your best option for treatment. If, though, the issue might not need immediate top of the line care, you should possibly consider alternatives, with the situation possibly being one where you should take your child to urgent care.
When Should I turn to Urgent Care?
Urgent care exists in order to assist with issues that aren’t life threatening but that you need to address right away. You should call 911 or go to the ER if you are in serious or critical condition. For instance, if you feel indications of a heart attack or see signs of a stroke, then you need to go to the ER. The ER provides you the best solution in times of critical need. It connects you with lifesaving resources. Even if your situation turns out to be a false alarm, you still should contact the ER if you feel you have a critical issue at hand.
You really should seek out urgent care, though, if your child isn’t in grave immediate danger or doesn’t have a significant wound or ailment. After all, there are downsides to going to the ER when you don’t have an emergency. For starters, ER visits cost significantly more than going to urgent care. Additionally, by their very nature, ERs and hospitals care for some very sick people many times with contagious diseases. If you don’t have to, you don’t want to expose yourself or your child unnecessarily to a harmful disease.
Finally, all ERs will perform triage on their patients when they are busy. This means that they care for the sickest patients first. As a result, if you go to the ER when you don’t have a true emergency, you might have to wait a long time before receiving treatment. If you had gone to an urgent care facility, on the other hand, you would have had probably a much shorter wait time.
When Should I Go for a Fever?
Finally, when thinking about when you should take a child to urgent care, we should discuss a child’s fever. After all, almost every young child becomes sick at one point or another. How do you know when that sickness becomes an immediate emergency, though?
Depending on the age of the child, you should treat fevers and symptoms differently when deciding on whether to seek urgent care. For fevers, the first thing you need to consider is the age of the child. For very young children under the age of two months, you should always consider a fever of at least 100.4 degrees an emergency and seek immediate care. In older children over the age of two months, though, you really should consider other symptoms and the intensity and duration of the fever.
Most of the time, fevers simply tell us that our bodies are trying to fight an infection. They are signs that our bodies are responding appropriately to an illness and taking action. This means that in most instances as long as the child is eating, has lots of fluid, and is urinating, you should be fine to keep an eye on the fever from home without going to urgent care or the ER.
Make Sure You Are Prepared and Know When You Should Take a Child to Urgent Care
None of us like to think about the worst-case scenarios. We all like to imagine that we never will have to take a ride in an ambulance or rush to urgent care at 2 am. Still, we all know that the worst possible scenario could happen to any of us at any time. This shouldn’t make us paranoid or fearful. Rather, this should make us want to become better prepared.
Knowing when you should take a child to urgent care provides the first step in your emergency care kit. The second step involves making sure you have what you need to be prepared when you actually have to go to urgent care. For instance, do you even know where the closest urgent care facility is? If not, go ahead and look it up and include it on your list of emergency contacts.
Additionally, part of being prepared involves going over your concerns with your child’s pediatrician before a critical issue arises. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about what they would recommend in an emergency situation, who to talk to, and where to go. Your doctor can provide further advice on when you should take a child to urgent care and when to consider other alternatives.
Again, while few critical medical situations provide you with clear decisions to make, being prepared in advance can help when an emergency arises. Use the tips in this post to help provide a starting guide in those times for your family. Be prepared for the worst but always hope the worst never happens. If it does, though, you can at least have a game plan to turn to.