Closeup of young infant Your child has an earache and you’re leaving for vacation tomorrow. Or she sprained an ankle running the bases during softball practice.

Your pediatrician’s office is closed. Head to the emergency room? Not necessarily.

A pediatric urgent care center can handle all of these and many other problems — illnesses and injuries you might think require an emergency department visit. While you may feel the urgency of all of your child’s issues, they may not always meet the medical criteria for an emergency department visit.

When you don’t think you need an ER, but you don’t want to wait for the pediatrician’s office to open, call your child’s doctor and ask if urgent care — specifically pediatric urgent care — is the solution. These facilities treat your child when you need it — on evenings and weekends — and how you need it — with consideration for his or her specific needs.

Benefits of pediatric urgent care

It’s important to make the distinction between a typical urgent care center, which sees patients of all ages — including adults — and a pediatric urgent care center. The staff of a pediatric facility — like those operated by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Chalfont, PA, Glen Mills, PAKing of Prussia, PA and coming soon at our Haverford, PA location — are uniquely skilled in the assessment of a sick or injured child.

Assessment is critical in all healthcare, but particularly in pediatrics where it can be difficult for children to describe their symptoms. It’s your job as a parent to recognize when something isn’t right and take action. It’s the provider’s job to answer the question, “How sick is this child?” This assessment, also called triage, is very different for children than it is for adults. For a young child, it can be a thin line between “a little sick” and “dangerously ill.”

The nurses and doctors at CHOP’s pediatric Urgent Care Centers understand that children are not small adults. That’s because they’ve been trained and have experience in pediatric assessment in CHOP’s Emergency Department, Neonatal/Infant Intensive Care (N/IICU) Unit, and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Can pediatric urgent care replace my pediatrician?

No. Your children should always stay up to date with their regular wellness visits, and if they are sick during normal office hours, your pediatrician — who knows your child and family best — should be your first choice. But when the office is closed, your child’s doctor will know that pediatric urgent care is a great option. And CHOP’s pediatric Urgent Care Centers promptly communicate all of the important information from the visit to your child’s doctor.

So, when should you head to a pediatric urgent care center?

If you’re able to, consult with your child’s pediatrician to determine if urgent care is the right choice for your child in that moment. The teams at CHOP’s locations are equipped to manage many conditions including:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Asthma
  • Broken bones requiring splinting (pediatric radiologist available to read X-rays while you wait)
  • Coughs, colds and sore throats
  • Cuts or minor gashes
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Earaches
  • Fever in babies older than 2 months
  • Headaches
  • Minor burns
  • Minor head injuries
  • Pinkeye
  • Rashes
  • Removal of ticks, splinters, hooks and other sharp objects
  • Skin abscesses (small pockets of pus that are usually caused by infection)
  • Sports injuries
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting

Unfortunately, sometimes you will be faced with a true emergency and need to take your child to the emergency department. Here are some of the top reasons to visit the ER:

  • Behavior change following loss of consciousness, especially after a head injury, including vomiting, disorientation and headache
  • Bleeding you can’t stop
  • Blue or purple skin or lips
  • Broken bones requiring immediate casting
  • Choking
  • Conditions requiring immediate blood test results
  • Drowning
  • Electric shocks
  • Fever in infants younger than 2 months
  • Large burns or smoke inhalation
  • Loose or knocked out teeth or other injuries to the mouth or face
  • Poisoning (call Poison Control Center first — 1-800-222-1222)
  • Seizures
  • Severe or persistent abdominal pain
  • Significant difficulty breathing
  • Steadily decreasing responsiveness
  • Sudden impact injuries such as from a car or bicycle accident, or falls from heights
  • Testicular pain or injuries
  • Unconsciousness or severe dizziness

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