Convenience seldom plays a role in the timing of your child’s illness or injury. Take the sudden earache at 3 in the morning…or a fall down the stairs on a Sunday afternoon. Sporting injuries are more likely in the evening or on a weekend. And what about that asthma attack? Chances are it began a couple hours after your doctor’s office closed.
So what’s a parent to do?
Well up until a few years ago, there were only two choices: wait it out until the doctor’s office opened or head to the local emergency room and a potentially long wait.
Fast forward to 2014 and the advent of urgent care centers on every side of town. They’re close. They’re convenient, lurking inside grocery stores and medicine shops with a friendly staff and an empty waiting room. But should you trust them with your child’s health?
The first thing to consider is this: Children are not little adults. Compared to grown-ups, childhood disease and injuries look different. They’re treated differently. They have different risks and pitfalls. And so it becomes important that the provider seeing your child has significant training and experience seeing pediatric patients.
How can you tell if a specific urgent care center is a good fit for YOUR child?
First, plan ahead. Which urgent care centers are closest to your child’s home or school or ball field? Do they have doctors or nurse practitioners or both? What about the ability to run lab tests or take x-rays? Once you’ve identified the options, ask your child’s doctor about each facility—before an illness of injury strikes. Your doctor will have the inside scoop on each option, including staff training and experience, and will be able to steer you in the right direction.
Second, when illness or injury does occur (unless you are dealing with an emergent medical need), talk to your child’s doctor again! Even if the office is closed, there should be someone on-call to field your question. Is this something that can wait until Monday morning… or does your child need to be seen NOW! Again, the doc who knows your child best is the right one to ask.
But what about those emergent medical needs? What if your child has been struck by a car or has fallen from a tree? What about the case of a serious head injury with loss of consciousness or multiple episodes of vomiting? What about obviously broken bones or large blistered burns? How about severe asthma attacks, young babies with fever, severe pain or seizures? These types of illnesses and injuries are medical emergencies, and your best bet is to call 911 for immediate care and transfer to the appropriate emergency center.
At the end of the day (literally), urgent care centers can save you from a frustrating wait. They can provide the right diagnosis and the right treatment plan soon after your child’s illness or injury begins. But the wrong urgent care… the one without pediatric expertise… that one might result in the wrong diagnosis or suboptimal treatment, and (rarely) these mistakes could put your child’s health in further danger!
Dr Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.
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