11:42 AM

Your Pediatrician, The ER or Urgent Care? How to Decide Where to Go When Your Child Needs Medical Attention.

When you live with a child, almost every day's unpredictable, and sometimes those adventures means your child needs medical attention.

But choosing the best place to go for your child's care  can be a difficult one for some parents. After all, Cook Children's offers several options within its system, ranging from primary care, urgent care, the neighborhood clinics and the emergency department.

So how do you know where to go? To begin with, visit the handy infographic to the right or click here.

"Every patient who comes into our Emergency Department is important to us. However, some patients may be able to receive the care they need from their primary care physician, a neighborhood clinic or an urgent care center," said Corwin Warmink, M.D., medical director of Cook Children's Emergency Department. "The best thing a parent can do is know what constitutes an emergency, so they know where to go when that time comes."

When it comes to choosing where to go, Kara Starnes, D.O. medical director of Urgent Care at Cook Children's, advises parents to think about the severity of the issue.

For instance, your child's Cook Children's pediatrician can see a number of ailments, including allergies, the flu, migraines, pink eye, sprains and vomiting.

During times when your pediatrician's office is not available, the Urgent Care Centers at Cook Children's can handle the same ailments, along with most fractures (broken bones) and cuts. Fractures with severe deformities or open fractures should not come to the Urgent Care but instead should go to the Emergency Department (ED). The ED has more equipment to handle the most severe cases, and the child can be admitted quickly to the medical center for continuing care.

If your child has multiple injuries, neck injuries or head injuries with loss of consciousness and/or vomiting, they should go to the ER. These kids typically need the ER because the UCC is not as equipped in imaging and other sophisticated tests available at the medical center.

"Possible surgery, such as appendicitis, is tough for parents to determine because most of the time, abdominal pain is caused by something simple like constipation," Dr. Starnes said. "But severe abdominal pain, testicular pain or swelling, bleeding when vomiting or severe bleeding with bowel movements are reasons to go to the ER."

You should visit the ED with your child in case of a medical problem that could cause death or permanent injury if not treated right away.

Daniel Guzman, M.D., a Cook Children's Emergency Department physician, adds “when in doubt of the severity, always visit the higher level of care such as the Emergency Department” and if immediate attention is required call 911.

And of course, we are right in the middle of flu season. Last week (Jan. 5 to Jan. 11, 2020), 837 kids were tested for the flu. Of those kids, 141 tested positive for Influenza A, 187 for Influenza B and another 102 for RSV. 

For those kids, Cook Children’s has a variety of options for care including the primary care officesneighborhood clinics and urgent care locations.

“If your child is over 3 months old and has a fever, even a high one, it’s OK to see your pediatrician as long as they are breathing comfortably and drinking well,” said Diane Arnaout, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Forest Park. “If your child has mild wheezing, we can give breathing treatments in the primary care offices. If you’re not sure whether your child’s issue is an emergency, our nurses can talk to you over the phone about symptoms and help you decide between the ER, urgent care and a primary care visit.”

Is This an Emergency?

Sometimes it can be difficult to know when you should call your child's doctor, or go to the urgent care or to the emergency department. Click to find a chart to help you decided if your child needs primary, urgent or emergency care. You can also print a chart to keep handy in a visible location or in your FREE Health Care Notebook.