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ED vs. urgent care: Where to go when illness strikes Children's Wisconsin

ED vs. urgent care: Where to go when illness strikes

As a Children’s Wisconsin urgent care doctor, I often hear from families who haven’t been sure where to take their sick or injured child. And, as a parent, you never want your child to be in pain or discomfort needlessly. But what's the best option for our child?

Helping you make a decision

In most cases, the best resource for your child’s health concerns is your pediatrician. If you have question about your child during office hours, you can start there. But we know illness and injury don’t always happen during regular hours, so most offices offer an on-call line with either a nurse or doctor available to provide advice 24 hours a day. Your child’s doctor knows their history, especially in the case of chronic medical problems. If your child has had a recent procedure or surgery or sees specialty care providers, contacting the provider’s office is a great place to start.

Children’s Wisconsin is always here for your family when you need us and offers many options. The Children’s Wisconsin Emergency Department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are also six urgent care clinics located throughout southeastern Wisconsin. And now parents have another option — an urgent care video visit, where they can see a pediatric specialist without leaving the house.

Sometimes the decision is simple. If your child is having severe or life-threatening symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away. Also, if there is an injury that is causing a lot of pain or bleeding, or if they are having trouble breathing, it’s important to get care right away. But when the symptoms are more common like fever, cough, sore throat or rash, it can be a bit more difficult to know what to do.

Here are general guidelines to help you. For more specific guidelines, click here


  • Life threatening illness or injury

Emergency Department

  • Major injuries

  • Severe pain or chest pain

  • Severe bleeding that will not stop

  • Altered consciousness

  • Severe headache

  • Seizure

  • Severe asthma reactions or difficulty breathing

Urgent care

  • Sickness/illness after hours that can’t wait until your primary care office has opened again: including pink eye, lice, asthma management, rash, fever, cold and cough, flu, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation.

  • Minor injuries 

Urgent care video visits 

  • For the convenience of having your child evaluated by a pediatric provider from your home 

  • Available online 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic

  • Urgent mental health issues (kids who are actively suicidal should go to the Emergency Department or call 9-1-1). 

  • Located at Children’s Wisconsin Milwaukee Hospital, this clinic provides same-day care for children and teens (ages 5-18).

  • The clinic is designed to offer an alternative to traditional urgent care and emergency room services, but it does not offer medication management.

Primary care

  • Annual well checks

  • Chronic illness guidance and management (asthma, constipation, headaches, etc)

  • Sickness/illness during regular office hours: ear infections, pink eye, respiratory issues, allergies, strep throat, cold and flu, urinary tract infections, hives or rash, croup, etc.

  • Minor injuries such as minor burns and cuts

Other excellent resources 

Children’s Wisconsin website. You can find valuable information including examples of which illnesses would be most appropriate for urgent care or the emergency department.

Children’s Wisconsin app. This free mobile app helps parents manage their child's care. Connected to MyChart, the app lets you schedule appointments and text with your child's providers. There is a symptom check to help you find the right place for care.

Please be careful if you use the internet for information about medical concerns and make sure it is a reputable source. Some websites are there to sell you a product or may not have correct or complete information. Children’s Wisconsin and other hospital or government websites are a good choice.

Trust your gut

Often, your own intuition is the best thing to follow. As a parent, you will usually know when to seek care for your child –– trust your instinct if you feel something isn’t right. Even if a specific treatment isn’t needed, we can often help parents keep their child safe and comfortable at home.

When working with worried parents, I always tell them that it’s my job to find out if something is wrong and to try to relieve them of the responsibility. Whether it’s online or at an in-person urgent care, or care in our Emergency Department, we have the tools to help find answers for parents — that’s why we’re here.