Urgent care centers and ERs (emergency rooms) both provide acute medical care. They are both options when your child has an immediate need for medical attention. So when your child is sick or hurt, how do you know which one to choose—urgent care or ER? Here are some general guidelines. What does pediatric urgent care provide? In some areas, you may be able to find specialized children’s urgent care. But even a regular urgent care center can help kids with pressing medical needs. An urgent care center is best able to handle situations that do not threaten life or limb. The level of care a center can provide varies. Some urgent care centers can handle more serious conditions than others. In general, urgent care for kids includes: Animal bites, minor bone fractures, minor burns, and cuts that require suturing (stitches) Coughs, sore throats, high fevers, and flu Earaches, sinus pain, eye problems, minor headaches, and minor breathing problems Rashes and skin problems Minor sports injuries Urinary tract infections Vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain Typically, an urgent care center can perform minor diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and rapid strep tests. They can also perform minor procedures, such as suturing and foreign body removal. However, they are not equipped for advanced tests and procedures. Sometimes, it’s hard to know before you get there whether you child requires more than an urgent care can offer. Rest assured, the staff at an urgent care will refer you to an ER if they can’t safely manage the situation. They can even arrange ambulance transportation if necessary. What does pediatric emergency care provide? In a true emergency, an ER is the safest place to take your child. This includes: Broken bones that disfigure the limb, have open wounds, or have bone that has broken through the skin Deep cuts or wounds that will not stop bleeding after applying pressure for 15 minutes Difficulty breathing, confusion, or extreme sleepiness Seizures, head injuries, difficulty walking or standing, or stiff neck with headache and fever Serious burns or severe allergic reactions Vomiting blood or severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea In still other situations, bringing emergency personnel to you is the safest option. They can assess the situation and start medical treatment on the way to the hospital. An ambulance can deal with traffic and delays safely. Call 911 if your child’s condition could worsen on the way to the hospital or if your child has: Stopped breathing or is choking Eaten a potentially poisonous substance including medications, vitamins, cleaning supplies, or any substance not intended as human food Lost consciousness Potential neck or spinal cord injury Seizures that continue for more than three minutes How do you decide which one to use? The urgency of the problem is the main deciding factor when choosing to go to an urgent care or ER. If you are in doubt where to take your child, err on the side of caution and go to an ER. An ER may be your only choice depending on the time of day your child needs care. Most urgent care centers are not open 24 hours a day, but ERs are. You can find care at an ER at any time of day or night. However, if an urgent care is open and your child isn’t having an emergency, going there can save you some headaches. You will see a doctor sooner and spend less time in an urgent care. In most cases, it takes 60 minutes or less for an urgent care visit. ER visits usually take about two hours. You will likely pay less for an urgent care visit as well. Most insurance plans charge a copay that is slightly more than a regular doctor visit, but much less than an ER visit. About half of urgent care visits end up costing less than $150, compared to an average of $1,354 in a emergency room. At an urgent care center, your child will be in the hands of providers dedicated to quality care. About 70% of doctors who work in urgent care centers are board certified in emergency medicine or family medicine. This makes urgent care centers a valuable option for the right situations.