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When to Go: Emergency Rooms vs. Urgent Care

Whether you take your child to a hospital emergency room or an urgent care center, it's best to make sure it is staffed by board-certified pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners. (Pixabay)
Whether you take your child to a hospital emergency room or an urgent care center, it's best to make sure it is staffed by board-certified pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners. (Pixabay)
December 26, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – 'Tis the season for frequent visits to the emergency rooms – but should you go to an urgent care center instead?

Many families face that dilemma, especially through the holidays.

Physicians report the winter holidays are the busiest times for medical emergencies, but not all emergencies are the same.

If a situation is life threatening, it's best to call 911.

But Dr. Jennifer Johnson, who runs the Urgent Care Center at Children's Mercy Kansas City, says, if you or your child has a problem after hours that you'd likely take to your regular doctor, an urgent care center would be able to manage.

"Run-of-the-mill things, like fever and vomiting, and diarrhea and ear infection – and maybe they are worried that their child has flu, or a mild asthma attack,” she states. “Also mild injuries – things where perhaps you think it's a sprained ankle."

Johnson says a careful assessment of your feelings is critical when making a decision.

Some clear examples of needing an emergency room include severe burns, swallowed objects, unstoppable bleeding, head injuries and loss of consciousness.

Children's Mercy Kansas City has two emergency rooms and three urgent care facilities – in Kansas City and Overland Park, Kan.; and in Independence, Mo.

Johnson says it's also good to have a family emergency plan in place, for situations such as a broken arm that are definite contenders for emergency care.

"If you're kind of wondering, 'Do I call 911, or do I put him in my car to get him there fast?'” she relates. “If that's your line of thinking, you're better off going to the emergency room."

Johnson says an early understanding of both ER and urgent care options helps cut down on wait times, too.

Children's Mercy also has a Save My Spot online check-in program that allows patients to view current wait times.


Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO