Your child is sick and it’s after-hours. Your child isn’t hemorrhaging anywhere and there are no bones sticking out of his skin. He may have a fever, or a nasty cough, or may have a strange rash that you have never seen before. Is your first instinct to make a mental note to call your pediatrician in the morning, or do you have the urge to drop everything and rush to your closest 24 hour Urgent Care clinic?
Let’s go over this carefully.
Ask yourself if he needs to be seen immediately. Has he had a seizure? Is this an infant that is severely lethargic and dehydrated, even unresponsive? Is this an allergic reaction that has worsened, and he is having problems breathing? Is this an asthmatic attack that has progressed and your child is getting tired? Was there some trauma that requires sutures, an x-ray, or further attention, like a bad concussion? Then please choose to go to a good emergency room as your child may require immediate specialized care.
Let’s say your child is “not that bad”. You’re sitting there debating what to do. Urgent Care now, or wait for his pediatrician in the morning?
First things first, let’s talk money. We all know how health care costs have risen in the past few years. Whether it is that your family had to drop insurance because of rising premiums that became unaffordable, or you had to choose a plan with higher deductibles or higher copays, chances are you’ve found yourself spending considerably more than in past years. Consider that most insurances have higher copays for emergency rooms and urgent cares than at your regular pediatrician. While an emergency room might bill you later (and you’ll be paying off that ER bill for a long time), most urgent cares require payment up front, and it may be a considerably higher bill than your physician, because after-hour codes are billed higher.
Now, let’s talk experience. Your pediatrician has specialized in treating children specifically, while in some urgent cares you may not see a board-certified pediatrician. You might not see a physician at all. Many urgent cares might see your child and then send him back to your pediatrician for follow-up, and then you are already down two co-pays…. and if your pediatrician changes the diagnosis or treatment, then there is the issue of medications you might already have purchased. Some childhood illnesses are best evaluated by a pediatrician that has studied many years to do just that– treat children specifically- and he or she will know best about illnesses that most general practitioners might not know much about, or have never seen. Save yourself some time and money and just go straight to your pediatrician! He or she already knows your kid and knows better than any other random medical practitioner about his allergies and past medical history, not to mention that, well, experience trumps everything else!
Most insurances have an after-hours triage line that you can use to ask what’s appropriate for your child. A friendly nurse will talk to you and tell you what’s the best course of action. If your child is very ill, an emergency room is more appropriate– if at all possible, choose an ER that has pediatric specialists on site (you may have to drive a little further for this). If time is of the essence, a local ER may stabilize your kid and then transfer them to a higher specialty hospital. But if your child is not severely ill, save yourself some time and money– and call your pediatrician. That’s what we are here for. That’s what we do!