Your child needs to see the doctor but the pediatrician’s office just closed. Do you try an urgent care center or head to the ER?
It’s a question that seems to come up often when caring for little ones who are under the weather. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but Dr. Kelly Levasseur recommends that parents ask themselves this: Would you otherwise take your child to the pediatrician’s office for the same complaint?
“If yes, you can go to the urgent care,” she says.
Levasseur, who serves as interim division director of the pediatric emergency department at Beaumont Health, says urgent care centers are best for non-life-threatening situations that still need to be taken care of right away.
“It’s important to remember that the primary care doctor is the best place to start when they’re sick or hurt unless (the parents) believe it’s an emergency,” she says. “They know their health history and any underlying conditions they could have.”
If your child’s pediatrician’s office is closed or you can’t get an appointment, many urgent care centers that treat children are available throughout the metro Detroit area.
Levasseur says some of the most common symptoms and illnesses that bring kids to urgent care centers including the following:
- Fever without a rash
- Minor injuries, sprains or suspected broken bones. Note: Make sure your urgent care clinic offers X-rays, and keep in mind that severe breaks require an ER visit.
- Ear pain
- Mild asthma
- Suspected urinary tract infection
- Sore throat or suspected strep throat
- Common cold symptoms
- Pink eye
Situations that warrant an ER visit include when a child has an ongoing fever for four to five days and isn’t eating or drinking well, suspected pneumonia, trouble breathing, concerns about dehydration and anytime after a child has been in an auto accident (even if minor), Levasseur says.
Remember that not all urgent care clinics offer the same services. Some can perform blood work, X-rays and other testing while others can’t, Levasseur says. Parents might also prefer to find an urgent care staffed by a pediatrician or one located at or near a hospital, such as Beaumont’s pediatric after-hours clinics in Royal Oak and Troy.
“It is important to think ahead,” she says. “Just be prepared and call a few urgent cares near you to figure out what services they provide.”
Urgent care centers typically see many patients with flu symptoms during the winter and more injuries during the summer, says Sue Pilarski, a registered nurse and the director of clinical quality with Michigan Urgent Care.
Rashes, ear infections and urinary tract infections are other common reasons for visiting urgent care, Pilarski says.
Based in Livonia, Michigan Urgent Care has 10 centers around southeast Michigan that are open 365 days per year. They also offer extended hours, such as 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at many of their locations.
“That’s especially convenient for working parents,” she says.
Parents should go with their gut when deciding whether to take their child to urgent care. Every child is different, Pilarski says – one might be happy and playing despite a low-grade fever while another child with the same symptom could be laying down and uncomfortable.
“You know your child,” she says.
Parents shouldn’t hesitate to bring their child to an emergency center if they feel it may be needed, Levasseur says.
“It’s just important for them to trust their instincts,” she says.
This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2017.