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Is It a Medical Emergency, or Not?

​When your child is sick or hurt, it can be difficult to tell whether an urgent care or emergency department is the best choice. In making that decision, it is important to stay calm and recognize the difference between a medical emergency and a medical situation where a different type of care may be more appropriate.

Nonemergency Medical Situations:

As a first step in nonemergency situations, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends calling your pediatrician's office—your child's "medical home"—to discuss your child's needs. Pediatricians are very accustomed to taking phone calls at all times and can often deal with problems over the phone. See Urgent Care: Is It Worth the No Wait? for more information.

Situations that warrant care for illness or injury, but not emergency care:

Examples of nonemergency medical situations - Table

Remember, for nonemergency situations, first call your child's pediatrician. If you believe an injury or illness is threatening your child's life or may cause permanent harm, go to the emergency room or call an ambulance. If your child is seriously ill or injured, it is safer for your child to be transported to the emergency department by ambulance. 

Emergency Medical Situations:

A trip to the emergency room is the best place for treating severe injuries or life-threatening illnesses. As a rule, if your child can walk, talk, interact, and play, chances are whatever she or he has is not an emergency. See 10 Things for Parents to Know Before Heading to the ER  for more information.

If your child is experiencing a true medical emergency, you should visit a hospital emergency room or call 911 immediately.

Situations that require emergency medical care:

Examples of Emergency Medical Situations - Table

If you aren't sure whether it is a true emergency, never hesitate to call your pediatrician's office—even if you know the office is closed. Pediatricians are very accustomed to taking phone calls at all times and can often deal with problems over the phone. If your pediatrician is unable to see you but believes your child should be examined, he or she will advise you on the most appropriate place for your child to receive care and how quickly your child should be seen. 

Additional Information & Resources:

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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