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When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician

Guest Post by Katy Fleming, MA, LPC, BSN, RN

When it comes to your children, health and wellness are a top priority.  We naturally want to help and protect our kids in any way possible.  However, as viruses continue to rise, emergency room wait times soar, as well.  

UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA added an outdoor tent to triage more patients as their census increases.  In a social media post, the Director of the Emergency Department reported that it’s largely due to a spike in Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

You may find it difficult to assess where to take your sick child.  It’s crucial to seek the appropriate level of care in your child’s time of need.

Let’s identify when to take your child to the emergency room, urgent care, or pediatrician. 

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician 

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician 

According to a recent study, over half of the patients in the emergency room (ER) at Brook Army Medical Center from September 2019-August 2020 could have received care from their primary doctor instead.  

It’s important to only seek the ER when your child truly has emergent symptoms.  Not only to prevent over-usage of the emergency room but also to minimize the spread of germs and bacteria.

Review the tips below to better educate yourself on whether your child requires an immediate visit to the ER, a stop to urgent care, or a scheduled appointment with the pediatrician.


If your child is eating normally, remaining in their typical sleep routine, and playing as usual, then they most likely do not require immediate medical attention.

Their primary doctor has your child’s medical records, a developed relationship, and overall knowledge of your child. 

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician 1Schedule an appointment with the pediatrician for a routine check-up, assessing environmental allergies, routine immunizations, school physicals, colds, minor injuries, and other mild symptoms.

In true emergencies, it’s vital to seek immediate care. Recognizing the difference between severe, moderate, and mild symptoms prevents the over-usage of emergency rooms and minimizes the spread of viruses.  

When in doubt, never hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician for assistance.

Urgent Care

Whereas the emergency room is intended for serious and life-threatening symptoms or conditions, urgent care provides medical attention to non-life-threatening situations. At times, your pediatrician’s office may not have an open appointment for several days.

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician 2

 Urgent Care is never a replacement for your child’s primary doctor, however, it’s an excellent resource in your time of need. They’re typically equipped with an x-ray and a lab to assist in diagnosis.

Consider your local urgent care facility for ear infections, sinus pain, urinary tract infections, sore throat, persistent cough or cold symptoms, or pink eye.

Emergency Room

Determining the difference between rushing to the hospital and waiting to call the pediatrician’s office requires assessing the severity and type of symptom.  

Serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing or loss of consciousness warrant immediate medical attention. When your child exhibits severe signs and symptoms, call 911.   

When to go to the ER, Urgent Care, or Pediatrician 3

The following symptoms are grounds for a trip to the emergency room or calling 911: 

  • Fast, heavy, or difficulty breathing
  • Blue or grey skin and lips
  • Crying without tears 
  • Unable to eat 
  • Severe persistent pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding (not stopping after 5 minutes of applying pressure)
  • Large cuts on the face or head
  • A seizure 
  • Loss of consciousness or lack of responsiveness 
  • Fever in an infant less than 2 months old
  • Severe dehydration (lack of urination for over 12 hours, lethargy, confusion)

Other types of sudden emergencies requiring immediate medical attention include ingesting poison, large burns, serious falls, or choking.  

If possible, call your pediatrician’s office before heading to the emergency room.  The doctor can guide you and notify the hospital of your arrival.

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As a licensed counselor and registered nurse, Katy approaches freelance writing with years of experience and a unique perspective. Alongside her partner, Katy loves to travel the world and embrace other cultures from volcanoes in Iceland to villages in India. 

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