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Pediatrician, Urgent Care, or ER? Where You Should Go and When

Pediatrician Visiting Father And Child In Hospital Bed; blog: Pediatrician, Urgent Care, or ER? Where You Should Go and When

As a parent, your child’s wellbeing is always top of mind. It can be scary when your child gets ill or injured, especially if you are unsure of the right place to seek care in given circumstances. How do you know when to go to the pediatrician, urgent care, or ER? 

When to See the Pediatrician

You should look at the pediatrician’s office as your child’s “medical home.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a medical home is not a building or facility. It is the combination of people, processes, and places that come together to provide your child with comprehensive care. It is about a trusting partnership between you, your child, and the care team.

A pediatrician should be able to provide full-scope care for your child. This means they can provide preventive medicine, perform well-child exams, treat chronic and acute illnesses, and coordinate specialty care and other support services.

Unless your child needs emergency medical attention (see below), the pediatrician should be your first call when your child is sick or injured. This includes when issues occur outside of office hours or on the weekend. Many pediatric practices provide 24-hour coverage and you can get in touch with the pediatrician or a triage nurse to seek advice.

When to Go to an Urgent Care Clinic

If your child needs medical attention quickly but does not need to go to the ER, your first call should be to the pediatrician. If the doctor is not able to see the child him or herself, then they will tell you the best place to seek care. Sometimes they will recommend an urgent care facility.

There are two main types of urgent care facilities:

  1. Retail-Based Clinics (RBCs): These clinics can often be found inside pharmacies, supermarkets, and national retail superstores. RBCs are convenient but offer a limited number of services. Providers in these clinics are often nurse practitioners or physician assistants with training in family medicine, but not specific pediatric training.
  2. Urgent and Nonemergency Hospital-Based Acute Care Clinics: These clinics are equipped to handle medical issues that need attention but don’t warrant a trip to the ER. These facilities are often open after hours and on weekends. The medical staff at an urgent care facility may not have any advanced training in pediatric care.

Keep in mind, the AAP does recommend that you take a child under 2 years old to RBCs or acute care clinics that do not have a board-certified pediatrician or another healthcare provider with pediatric expertise on staff. In these cases, go to a pediatric emergency department.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

As the name suggests, you should take your child to the emergency room during medical emergencies. The AAP defines a medical emergency as when you believe your child has an injury or illness that may cause permanent damage or even threaten their life. Symptoms that indicate emergency medical attention is needed may include:

  • Unconsciousness with no response
  • Symptoms associated with a head injury
    • loss of consciousness
    • intense or worsening headache
    • ongoing or worsening confusion
    • nausea & vomiting
  • Persistent intense pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Neck stiffness accompanied by fever
  • Seizures
  • Skin or lips that are purple, blue, or gray
  • Large or deep cuts
  • Cuts to the chest, abdomen, or head
  • Severe bone fractures
  • Severe burns
  • Bleeding that does not stop after pressure is applied for 5 minutes
  • New or worsening psychiatric or behavioral symptoms
  • Poisoning

In these cases, take your child straight to an emergency department. In some cases, it is safer for your child to be taken to the emergency room by ambulance, so calling 911 or your local emergency number. After you have called EMS or arrived at the emergency room, you can call your pediatrician. 

At Kernodle Pediatrics, we provide our patients with 24-hour medical coverage with an on-call physical and weekend hours for acute illness. If you have questions about where you should take your child for medical attention, our staff can guide you. Call the Elon office at (336) 538-2416 and the Mebane office at (919) 563-2500.


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