When your child needs quick medical care, in some cases, it’s hard to determine whether you should go to an urgent care center or to the emergency department (ED). Before making that important decision, here are some things to consider.
Urgent Care Center Treatment
Urgent care centers can manage the same problems as your regular health care provider when your child is sick. These centers also can provide services like X-rays, stitches and splints. If you can’t get to your provider’s office or it’s after regular office hours, you can get medical care at an urgent care center.
In addition, urgent care centers can also treat:
• simple bone injuries
• minor burns
• splinter removal
• sprains and other sports injuries
• minor animal bites
• belly pain
• vomiting or diarrhea
Visiting the ED
The ED is equipped to handle more serious problems, like Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department, which is prepared for life-threatening illnesses and injuries at any time of the day or night..
You should go to the ED if your child experiences any of the following:
• trouble breathing
• unusual sleepiness or confusion or cannot awaken
• a stiff neck with a fever
• a continuous fast heartbeat
• ingested a poison, drug or unknown substance
• a head injury and is vomiting
• an eye injury
• a serious burn
• a fever in a child less than six weeks old (although certain types of fevers in older children may be able to be seen elsewhere)
Some situations are so serious that you need the help of trained medical personnel on the way to the hospital and need to call 911 immediately.
Call 911 if your child:
• isn’t breathing or is turning blue
• is unconscious after a fall
• is having a seizure
• has a serious allergic reaction
• has a broken bone that sticks out through the skin
• took an unknown amount of medicine and is now hard to rouse
• is choking
• has a large cut that won’t stop bleeding
So, what happens when you first arrive at the ED? “In the Emergency Department, children are seen first by a triage nurse who does a medical assessment as to the severity of illness,” said Kathy Monroe, M.D., MSQI, and attending physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s of Alabama. “Children with severe illnesses are seen right away, while others may have a wait time according to the severity of their illness,” she said.
Additional Things to Consider
Whether you are going to an urgent care center or an ED, you should know the name and number of your child’s primary care provider, your child’s medical history and the details of your child’s current medical concern. And it’s good to know the name and number of the pharmacy where you usually get your prescriptions filled.
Here is what you should include in child’s medical history:
• medicines your child is taking
• history of previous hospitalizations
• any previous surgeries
• relevant family history
• immunization history
When giving the details of your child’s current medical concern, be sure to include:
• when the problem began (the time of injury or how many days your child has been sick)
• the symptoms of the current illness or injury
• treatments and medicines you have already tried
• when your child last had anything to eat or drink
Dr. Monroe said, “Parents should definitely check with their child’s pediatrician for guidance when making decisions about urgent care, emergency care or a doctor’s office. Planning ahead is important for any situation.”
The Children’s of Alabama ED is located at 1601 5th Avenue South in downtown Birmingham. Around-the-clock valet services are provided at no charge for patient families at the corner of 5th Avenue South and 16th Street.