Urgent care centers have become increasingly more popular over the past decade. You can find one on every corner. But are they safe? Can we, as parents, trust that our children are getting adequate medical attention ? The answer is simply, yes! These facilities can be an excellent resource for parents, especially when your child needs medical attention after hours. In some situations, it can actually be more advantageous to have your child seen at an urgent care center than in an emergency room. Emergency rooms are designed so that the highest at risk patients are seen first. So, if you are bringing your child to the ER for ear pain and high fever, there is a significant chance that you will experience a long wait time. This long wait time can increase your child’s chance of being exposed to other illnesses while at the ER. In the case of ear pain and high fever, a facility designed to take care of lower risk conditions is a better fit. However, in a true emergency situation, time is extremely crucial! These facilities are not equipped to do extensive workups including labs and imaging. When is it appropriate to take my child to an urgent care center rather than going straight to the emergency room? Today I am going to go over some guidelines to help you determine when an urgent care center is appropriate and tips on how to pick the right facility.
An urgent care center should be viewed and treated exactly the same as your pediatrician’s office. An urgent care center is a great option if your child is sick with something that you would typically see your pediatrician for. If your child has a preexisting medical condition, or you feel there is a medical concern that cannot be addressed by your primary care physician, it is best to go directly to an emergency room. Below I am going to provide a list of common medical concerns that are appropriate for each facility, but remember, these are just guidelines. I have and will continue to stress to our readers that your instinct as a parent is a priceless tool. If you feel something is wrong with your child, immediately head to the emergency room to be evaluated.
If you can’t see your pediatrician and:
- Your child is complaining of ear pain associated with fever and/or ear drainage;
- Your child has fever accompanied by cold symptoms;
- Your child has a sore throat with or without white patches but does not have drooling or change in voice tone;
- Pink eye which is typically associated with eye drainage or redness to eye but without visual changes or direct pain behind the eye;
- Your child is having mild symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea but has no belly pain, blood in stool, or signs of dehydration; and
- Your child has a minor cut or sprain.
- Your child is less than 2 months old and has a fever;
- You think your child might have a broken bone with swelling or deformity;
- Any head injury;
- Your child has vomiting associated with persistent abdominal pain and signs of dehydration (dry lips, decrease urination, inability to tolerate anything by mouth);
- Your child is complaining of difficulty breathing or chest pain;
- Your child had a seizure;
- You child has a large cut, especially in younger children who need sedation or behavioral support while a laceration is being repaired; and
- Any symptoms from my article- Symptoms That Parents Should Never Ignore!
Picking the Right Urgent Care Center:
A lot of centers will see pediatric patients but are staffed with adult doctors, so here are my tips to finding the right urgent care center:
- Don’t just go to the first urgent care center you see;
- Call ahead of time see if they see pediatric patients and if they have a doctor in house;
- Research the closest pediatric hospitals and see if the have an associated urgent care center. Most do and are staffed with Pediatricians;
- Call your local pediatric emergency room and see if the have a fast track or urgent care component; and
- Ask other parents for recommendations.