It’s a familiar scene to many parents—that agonizing moment, perhaps late at night, when your child is miserable, you’re exhausted, and you’re trying to decide if a trip to the emergency room is necessary.
While it’s a great solution for truly emergent problems, ERs are often overused. A 2018 report compiled by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) states that there were 30 million emergency room visits for children under 18 in 2015, and almost 97% of these were “treat and release,” meaning patients did not require care beyond the ER. An appointment with your pediatrician may be the better option depending on your child’s symptoms. Consider the following the next time you’re wondering where to take a sick or hurting child:
Emergency Rooms should be reserved for serious conditions.
Your pediatrician understands that nothing compares to a worried parent, but the ER should not be used as a first resort unless absolutely necessary. The table below may be used as a guide to worthwhile ER utilization. You will see that most ER conditions are quite specific, whereas a primary care physician can treat a wide range of issues.
|Go to the ER||Call Your Pediatrician|
|· Life-threatening or disabling conditions
· Sudden or unexplained loss of consciousness
· Chest pain
· Body numbness or difficulty speaking
· Severe shortness of breath
· Fever over 100.4 degrees in an infant less than 6 weeks old
· Coughing up or vomiting blood
· Cut or wound that won’t stop bleeding
· Broken bones and major injuries
· Allergic reactions to food or medication
· Accidental or intentional poisoning: Poison Control (800) 222-1222
· Cold and flu symptoms including fever, sore throat, and congestion or runny nose.
· Respiratory symptoms such as cough or wheezing
· Ear discomfort
· Digestive upset, vomiting, or diarrhea
· Urinary pain or other pelvic discomfort
· Headaches, including migraines
· Skin irritations including eczema, skin allergies, poison ivy, bug bites, and fungal breakouts.
· Asthma exacerbations
· Minor injuries, falls, or pains
· Changes appetite, sleep, or behavior
· Need for medication
Same day and next-day appointments are available.
If you’re worried about seeing a physician quickly, you should still call your pediatrician’s office. ONE Pediatrics practices keep appointments available for patients who need to be seen promptly, and they often have extended hours and weekend appointments to accommodate tricky schedules. As Patient-Centered Medical Homes, they are glad to take your call even when the office is closed or very busy.
ONE Pediatrics providers treat minor injuries as well as illness.
Accidents happen at all ages, and your pediatrician is trained and ready to address them. If your child is hurt and it’s not obvious that an ER visit is necessary, call your doctor’s office first. They will triage your call to determine where your child should be seen, possibly sparing you a long day in the ER.
ER visits can be expensive and keep you waiting.
Remember that emergency rooms are the first stop for severe illnesses and injuries, which means that lesser ailments won’t be seen as quickly as serious ones.
“You may be stuck waiting in an ER for hours before you actually see a doctor, which also means exposure to all the germs and viruses that travel through ER doors,” says Dr. Eleanor Braun, Board Certified Pediatrician at South Louisville Pediatrics, a division of ONE Pediatrics. Depending on your insurance plan, a trip to the ER can also be very expensive even for minor treatment. Insurance companies also track ER use closely, affecting premium costs and coverage.
When in doubt, CALL.
Your child’s pediatrician likely knows more about his or her health history than any other healthcare provider. This relationship makes them highly equipped to determine the seriousness of your child’s complaints, and their goal is always the same: to see your child healthy and happy. The table above is not a complete list of everything your child may experience. A quick call to your pediatrician’s office—day or night, 7 days a week—certainly won’t hurt and may lead to a simple, effective resolution.