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Young girl with Sheryn Abraham, MD, Lakeside Pediatrics Children's Wisconsin

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


Sickness and injuries don’t always happen during your pediatrician’s office hours. And, as a parent, you never want your child to be in pain or discomfort needlessly. That's why after-hours care can be a great option for illness or injury after your pediatrician’s office has closed for the day. But what's the best option for your child?

Parents often debate whether to take their child to an emergency room or urgent care clinic And now parents have a new option — Children's Online Urgent Care, 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 911 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.

Helping you make a decision

In most cases, the best resource for your child’s health concerns is your pediatrician. Most offices have 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.

Other excellent resources include:

  • Our Children’s Wisconsin website, where you can find valuable information including examples of which illnesses would be most appropriate for urgent care or the emergency room

  • Children’s On Call, a free mobile app that helps you make informed decisions on what kind of care your child might need based on their symptoms

If you use the internet for information about medical concerns, make sure it is a reputable source like those listed above. 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.

Where to go for after-hours care

Once a decision is made to bring your child in for after-hours care, where do you go?

In general, urgent care is for minor illnesses and injuries, while the emergency room is for more serious illnesses and injuries.

Children’s Wisconsin has seven urgent care clinics in the community that have evening and weekend hours. Our urgent care sites are the area’s only walk-in clinics just for kids. They are staffed by board-certified pediatricians (including myself) and nurse practitioners. You can either walk-in or reserve your spot online to reduce the wait in the clinic.

Some common ailments we can treat at urgent care include:

  • Earache or ear infections

  • Sore or strep throat

  • Sinus infections

  • Colds or flu

  • Pink eye or mild eye complaints

  • Urinary tract infections

  • Persistent cough not accompanied by breathing difficulties

  • Minor vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal issues

  • Minor burns or cuts

  • Hives, rashes or bug bites

  • Bruises or sprains

  • Minor injuries

  • Mild asthma/mild wheezing

  • Croup

Our Emergency Department is also the only one in the area with doctors and staff trained specifically in emergency care for kids. If your child is having a medical emergency, our Emergency Department in Wauwatosa is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Reasons to go to the emergency room include:

  • Major injuries

  • Severe pain or chest pain

  • Severe bleeding that will not stop

  • Altered consciousness

  • Severe headache

  • Seizure

  • Severe asthma reactions

  • Psychiatric emergencies

In the past, those have been the main two options for after-hours care. But now, there is Children's Online Urgent Care. Pediatric providers are available 24/7 offering care and advice for certain minor medical conditions. For a fee of $20, you can consult with a pediatric provider without leaving home. This option is great for families on the go, with other little ones at home making it hard to leave the house or in inclement weather. Online urgent care video visits are a great option for conditions such as:

  • Pink eye

  • Lice

  • Asthma management

  • Rash

  • Fever

  • Cold and cough

  • Flu

  • Vomiting, diarrhea and constipation

Trust your instinct

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.