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Urgent care vs. emergency room: When to take the kids

Urgent care versus the ER -- expert advice

Urgent care versus the ER -- expert advice to help parents decide when to bring a child. Credit: iStock

Q. How should parents decide whether to take a child to a pediatric urgent care center or an emergency room?

A. First, parents should try to reach their child's pediatrician; after office hours, doctors usually have a pediatrician on call, says Dr. Jahn Avarello, who says he "sits in both seats" as the doctor in charge of the pediatric emergency room and the pediatric urgent care center of the Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "Often there are nuances that the primary care provider can detect by phone," Avarello says. The pediatrician can help recommend the appropriate and reputable venue, he says.

If the pediatrician can't be reached, or time is of the essence, parents should act based on the severity of the situation, Avarello says. With abdominal pain, a severely broken bone or respiratory distress, a child should be taken to an ER, which can do CT scans and ultrasounds, he says.

In a less acute situation, a pediatric urgent care center may have a lower insurance co-payment and be able to address the problem more quickly because of the elimination of adult patients vying for attention, he says. Avarello recommends pediatric urgent care centers rather than general centers because they are more likely to have pediatricians or pediatric emergency medicine specialists on duty at all times. Many have X-ray equipment; many are festively decorated. "It's a lot more comforting of an environment and a lot less likely that the child is going to be scared," he says.

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