Pediatric Care, Urgent Care or Emergency Care?

It can be confusing for parents to determine when they need to take their child to a pediatrician, urgent care center or emergency department. Each healthcare facility is positioned to help care for your child in unique ways. And where you go can make a difference in what medical equipment and tools are available to fully assess your child. Regardless, all kids and teens should be seen and treated in a pediatric-specific healthcare facility.

When should I take my child to his pediatrician?

Your child’s pediatrician is the best person to see for regular medical care. When you have questions about your kid’s health, call his primary care doctor. Visit on weekdays and by appointment for:

  • Checkups
  • Physicals
  • Flu shots and other vaccines
  • Common illnesses and injuries

When should I take my child to a pediatric urgent care center?

“If your child or teen is suffering from an illness or injury that isn’t chronic or life-threatening, and your pediatrician is unavailable, a pediatric urgent care center may be the best place to go," says Tracy Nailor, MD, MPH, a Pediatric Urgent Care Physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “When possible, choosing a pediatric urgent care center will give you access to doctors and nurses who are specially trained to diagnose and care for kids.”

At a pediatric urgent care center, they can handle a variety of medical issues that need prompt treatment. Some centers even provide online scheduling, which allows you to pick an appointment time and begin the check-in process.

Consider taking your child to a pediatric urgent care center when his regular doctor isn’t available and he:

  • Has a fever accompanied by cold symptoms that you suspect might be the flu.
  • Has a minor cut that may need stitches.
  • Is tugging at his ear and might have an ear infection.
  • Needs an X-ray.
  • Has a sore throat with or without white patches on the tonsils.
  • May have a sprain or minor bone fracture, and the bone is not coming out of the skin.
  • Has mild wheezing but is not having trouble breathing.
  • Is having an allergic reaction but is not having trouble breathing.
  • Has a mild skin rash.
  • Has a possible concussion, but has not lost consciousness.
  • Is vomiting or has diarrhea without blood in the stool.
  • Has red, inflamed eyes with or without discharge.
  • Has a headache or migraine without numbness, tingling or weakness.
  • Had a seizure without fever that stops on its own.
  • Has a minor burn.

When should I take my child to the ER?

“There are certain symptoms and conditions that can't be treated at an urgent care center and require a trip to the ER,” says Dr. Nailor. “Hospital emergency departments are open around-the-clock and are prepared for every kind of medical emergency.”

While there are several circumstances that may require emergent care, head to the nearest emergency department if your child:

  • Is younger than 1 month old and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
  • Has possibly swallowed a button battery.
  • Has a suspected fracture with visible swelling or unevenness and bumps in the injured area (a displaced bone requires realignment under sedation).
  • Has ingested a poisonous substance or taken too much medicine.
  • Has a severe burn, such as deep burns covering large parts of the body surface, or on the face, extremities or genitalia).
  • Has hit his head and lost consciousness, even for just a few seconds.
  • Shows signs of dehydration, including very dry lips and mouth, absence of urination for more than 12 hours, and lethargy and confusion.
  • Has heavy, fast breathing and is gasping for air.
  • Has gaping cuts.
  • Has a skin rash that is oozing.
  • Has a complex chronic illness.
  • Has a psychiatric issue.

Think an urgent care center is the right choice for your child’s medical needs?

Children’s is the only hospital system in Georgia that has urgent care centers staffed by pediatric-trained doctors and nurses 365 days a year. Our Urgent Care Center physicians are specially trained to diagnose and treat children’s and teens’ common illnesses and injuries. Whether you choose Children’s as your pediatric urgent care provider, we recommend that you take your child to a pediatric urgent care center when possible.

When in doubt, call your pediatrician

If your child’s not suffering a life-threatening injury, illness or symptom, and you’re still unsure of where to go, call your pediatrician’s office before deciding between visiting a pediatric urgent care center or emergency department. They’ll usually have a doctor on call who can advise you on where to take your child.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.
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