Kids Health Matters: Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's easy to overdo it on long holiday weekends - overeating, playing too hard, and maybe being a little careless.

If your little one gets hurt or sick, parents may be torn - should you go to an emergency room or urgent care?

Every parent has faced it - a late night or weekend medical crisis. Your child is sick, but sick enough for the emergency department?

Dr. Kate Cronan, a Nemours duPont Hospital emergency physician, says these need immediate ER attention:

"Say your child has a badly broken bone or if they have trouble breathing. Somebody passed out, they can't wake them up, seizures," she said.

Also, children who are vomiting or not alert after a head injury and those whose skin or lips have turned blue...

"Things that would go to an urgent care are more like a minor injury, splinter, all the other things you might think - like an ankle sprain, mild rash," said Dr. Cronan.

And any acute illness like mild fevers or earaches.

However, Dr. Cronan cautions that urgent care centers may be convenient, but they aren't used to treating kids.

"Urgent cares overwhelmingly are not staffed by pediatricians. They're usually either family doctors or ER doctors," she said.

And kids aren't just little adults.

"The conditions can be very, very different in a child versus an adult," said Dr. Cronan.

Fortunately, more & more pediatric hospitals have urgent care centers open nights, weekends and holidays.

Dr. Cronan suggests getting guidance from your child's pediatrician before an emergency even strikes.

"Doctor, what do you think about my child going to urgent care or making a telemedicine, having a telemedicine visit?" she said.

You might want to call ahead to the urgent care - many have age limits.

Ask for a doctor or nurse and describe your child's symptoms. They can also help determine whether there or the ER is best for your child.
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