When should I take my child to the ER?

Every parent has agonized over whether to take a sick or injured child to the emergency room. Yet too often, the only option considered is home treatment or the ER. While some situations clearly require medical attention, few require a trip to a hospital or stand-alone ER.

Why should it matter? Because the ER almost always means higher wait times and higher stress, and always means higher bills compared to urgent care. Further, while all ERs offer some level of pediatric care, only four Richmond-area emergency rooms have board-certified pediatric providers.

As a pediatric urgent care center—founded by physicians with years of pediatric experience in a pediatric emergency department—we’re all too familiar with how many unnecessary visits children and their parents make to the ER. A pediatric urgent care center can handle most illness and injuries, even those requiring sutures, X-rays, and IVs.

When the ER Is the Obvious Choice

The ER is the obvious choice when no other pediatric choices are available—like the middle of the night—and for the few true emergencies.

Call 911 if

  • Your child is choking.
  • You believe your child has ingested a poisonous substance. (Start by calling Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222.)
  • Your child stops breathing or turns blue.
  • Your child becomes unconscious or unresponsive.
  • Your child has a broken bone that pierces the skin.
  • Your child swallows a button battery or multiple magnets.

If it’s a true emergency, rely on professionals. Don’t drive your child to the ER when medical attention is extremely urgent.

Separating Urgency from Emergency

There is an interim step for almost all situations: a call to your child’s primary-care physician. Most primary-care practices maintain after-hours numbers that can connect you with a nurse or physician on call.

While they may ultimately recommend heading to the ER out of an abundance of caution—over-the-phone diagnosis has limitations—they often spare parents a late-night trip, offering a next-day appointment or simple home monitoring.

If you plan to call your primary-care physician, be prepared to answer these questions:

  • Is your child having trouble breathing?
  • Does your child have a fever? If so, did they take any Motrin or Tylenol?
  • Is your child drinking and using the toilet/wetting diapers normally?

Research by Johns Hopkins University found that almost half of all pediatric patients in the ER have illnesses that can be handled at urgent- or primary-care offices. Most children do not need to go to the ER. A pediatric urgent care provides a more efficient, less costly experience. At KidMed, we rarely need to send a child to the ER.

While adult urgent care or retail clinics may be more convenient, they lack the pediatric training and experience to take care of your child. We frequently treat patients referred to us from adult urgent care centers and retail clinics.

The Bottom Line: Trust Your Instincts

When deciding which choice is most appropriate, many physicians encourage parents to trust their instincts. You have the most experience monitoring the health of your child and may be best able to differentiate a serious illness from a run-of-the-mill bug.

If it is not a true emergency, call your pediatrician or take your child to pediatric urgent care. You wouldn’t take your grandmother to a pediatrician or your dog to a human doctor. Why take your child to a provider with little or no pediatric training?

Trust the experts with years of pediatric training board certification. The best options for your child’s care are your pediatrician, pediatric urgent care, or a pediatric emergency room physician.

Categories: Resources

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