Your child isn’t feeling well or just fell off of their bike. Your heart sinks and you ask yourself, “Where should I take him for treatment?” It’s best to call your child’s pediatrician, who knows your child and can direct you to an appropriate level of care. However, childhood injuries and illnesses often occur at night or on weekends, when your doctor’s office is closed. If calling the doctor’s office isn’t an option, how do we as parents know where to take our sick or injured child?
You have three options for care when your doctor’s office is closed: convenient care, urgent care or the emergency department.
First, let’s look at convenient care, or walk-in clinics. Convenient care sites that see children are suitable when your doctor’s office has no appointments available or the office is closed. With no appointment necessary, walk-in clinics offer care for most concerns for which you would normally go to the doctor’s office. These include coughs, colds, earaches, upset stomach, sore throat, urinary tract infections, rashes, minor injuries or other mild health conditions. If you think your child has an injury or condition requiring an x-ray, repair of a larger wound, or maybe IV or blood tests, then you should seek care at another facility. Most convenient cares only require a doctor’s office co-pay, and usually close at 7 or 8 p.m.
Urgent care would be the next level of care. Think of urgent cares as “mini emergency rooms” that are open on weekends and usually close at 7 or 8 p.m. They are equipped to handle more serious, non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. It’s more efficient to use urgent care than an emergency department, in terms of both money and time. The typical wait time at an urgent care center is less than 30 minutes, compared with longer wait times at an emergency department. Co-pays at urgent cares are a little higher than at walk-in clinics, but are lower than at an ER.
The emergency room is like the name states – for emergencies. The staff is equipped and trained to handle life-threatening situations and more severe illnesses and injuries. Specialists can also be consulted and involved in your child’s care, if needed. The emergency room never closes – it is open 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year.
If you find yourself in a situation when the convenient care or urgent care is closed and end up at the emergency room, please don’t be discouraged if there is a wait. Remember, in an emergency department, the sickest or most severely injured go first.
As parents, you know your child better than anyone. If you can’t reach your pediatrician, use your best judgment as to where your child needs to be seen. Keep in mind that if one facility is not equipped to handle your child’s needs, you may be directed to a different one with the necessary resources.
Stay safe and be well.
Joe Nahlik, PNP, is a pediatric nurse practitioner. He cares for patients at both the Mercy Children’s Hospital pediatric emergency department and the Mercy Kids Convenient Care in Cottleville, Missouri.