Urgent care or emergency room?

Ear pain, sore throats, cold and flu, minor burns and cuts. For my own girls, childhood has been marked by more than just a few visits to the local emergency room or urgent care clinic. And, many times, when their injuries and illnesses disrupt our routines, the local doctor’s office is closed. When this happens, most parents are left asking whether to steer the car in the direction of the local emergency room or an urgent care clinic.

Children’s Urgent Care Clinics are for illnesses and injuries that your child normally would receive care for at his or her doctor’s offices. Most often, Children’s Urgent Care locations are open when regular doctor’s offices are closed. In many cases, urgent care clinics will offer lower co-pays and shorter wait times than emergency rooms.

Your child may need urgent care for:

  • Ear infections with pain and/or fever.
  • Sore or strep throat.
  • Cold or the flu.
  • Mild asthma attacks
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, especially in babies and small children.
  • Non-severe bleeding.
  • Minor burns or cuts.
  • Hives, rash or diaper rash.
  • Bruises or sprains.
  • Lice, scabies or ringworm.
  • Drug reactions such as hives or rashes.

The emergency room is for more serious illnesses and injuries. Emergency rooms are equipped to care for all patients, from those with minor illnesses to those with life-threatening injuries. Because of this, patients with a less severe problem usually will have to wait – sometimes hours – until the more critically ill patients are treated. For appropriate cases, urgent care clinics have shorter wait times.

Your child may need emergency care for:

  • Serious broken bones, such as the leg or arm.
  • Severe or unusual bleeding that will not stop.
  • Heart attack or severe chest pain.
  • Suspected stroke.
  • Sudden inability to see, move or speak
  • Choking or trouble breathing.
  • Possible poisoning.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Fainting or syncope.
  • Convulsions or prolonged, repeated seizures.
  • Drug overdose.
  • Major injuries.
  • Severe pain.

Unfortunately, some childhood injuries and illnesses may require more immediate care. In emergencies, always call 9-1-1 for the most immediate care.

While arming yourself with information is one of the best things you can do as a parent, remember to trust your instincts. You know your child best.

For more information about Children’s Urgent Care locations call (414) 266-4800. For more information about the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Emergency Department, call (414) 266-2000.

– Lori Plahmer, RN, BSN, MSHSA, director of Emergency Services at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.


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